Chinese President Xi Jinping and foreign leaders tour the first China International Import Expo's Country Pavilion for Trade and Investment in Shanghai on November 5 (XINHUA)
To balance its foreign trade and pursue high-quality development, China has activated a new round of opening up, with expanding imports given top priority.
From November 5 to 10, the first China International Import Expo (CIIE) was held in the National Exhibition and Convention Center in Shanghai, attracting more than 400,000 domestic and overseas purchasers, with roughly 5,000 products making their debut at the expo. In the years to come, the CIIE will be held on an annual basis.
The list of products traveling across borders and on display was all-encompassing, ranging from the largest: a 200-ton planer type milling machine, to the smallest: a cardiac pacemaker the size of a tablet; and from the most luxurious: an Italy-made helicopter with a price tag of 200 million yuan ($28.85 million), to the most common: Iberian ham. Besides tangible goods, various services also found their way to the expo, including logistics, tourism and smart home solutions, among others.
At the opening ceremony of the expo on November 5, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that the country will further its opening-up initiative in five ways: stimulate the potential for increased imports, continue to broaden market access, foster a world-class business environment, explore new horizons for opening up and promote international cooperation at the multilateral and bilateral levels.
"The CIIE demonstrates China's consistent position of supporting the multilateral trading system and promoting free trade. It is a concrete action by China to advance an open world economy and support economic globalization," Xi said.
The CIIE is the world's first import expo held at the national level and an innovation in the history of global trade. Xi's views on openness, free trade and globalization received extensive applause from attendees.
The World Trade Organization head welcomed Xi's speech. "What we need today is not more borders but less borders," Director General Roberto Azevêdo said. "We need countries to leverage their potential to help each other and to give more opportunities to business and growth."
In a statement, Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham praised Xi's strong commitment to China's ongoing reform and opening up and his remarks on the need to preserve and strengthen the rules-based multilateral trading system.
The UK's International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said it was "fantastic" to hear more from Xi on China further opening up its market to imports and investment, adding that the British Government is "delighted to be supporting the event."
"President Xi gave an important speech. He gave direction to China's future in terms of economic and commercial interactions with foreign countries. I think the future is bright, not only for China, but also for its partners," said Dhia Khaled, Ambassador of Tunisia to China.
Aziz Mekouar, Morocco's Ambassador to China, said free trade has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. "President Xi announced new measures to open the market and expressed support for free trade, which can bring enormous wealth to human society," he said.
"In the future, China's market will become bigger as per-capita income continues to grow. China's further opening up will lead to more cooperation," Mekouar said. In addition, many other participants strongly applauded China's achievements since reform and opening up began in the late 1970s.
In the past, the focus has been more on the country's exports, but now the first CIIE signaled that China welcomes overseas products in its own market, which marks a further step toward opening up, said Annette Tabbara, Plenipotentiary of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg to the Federation and the European Union and for Foreign Affairs.
Trade creating wealth
Among the experts and entrepreneurs present at the expo, most agreed that free trade can generate wealth for people around the world and is an indispensable element to ensuring peace and prosperity.
"This is a moment for China to take a leadership role in multilateralism," said John Denton, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), referring to the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road (Belt and Road) Initiative as one example of China's pushing forward openness.
Denton said almost one in three workers in the world relies on the success of ICC member businesses to ensure their prosperity, and looking through the eyes of ICC members and those who work for them, they want free trade to continue.
"Today, globalization is facing substantive difficulties, and an open mindset and continuous innovation are necessary to deal with the current difficulties," said Ding Lei, founder and CEO of the Chinese tech company Netease, who believes this is the only way can growth momentum be generated in countries and enterprises.
Long Guoqiang, a research fellow with the Development Research Center of the State Council, China's cabinet, pointed out that the ultimate purpose of international trade is to benefit as many people as possible. To this end, efforts should be made in three ways: First, an open, inclusive and stable international environment for trade and economy needs to be put in place, which makes the existence of a multilateral trading system necessary. Second, concerted efforts should be made to ensure that businesses and people from less developed countries can be integrated into trade. On this front, consideration should be given to the gap between developed and developing countries and preferential treatment should be made available for the latter. Third, the best use of technological progress needs to be made; innovation in business models and technologies should be fully leveraged in areas like Africa and the Pacific islands.
"To benefit more people, we should be cautious with the employment of protectionist measures such as tariffs," Long said.
Visitors experience driving a passenger jet at the Boeing Company booth during the first China International Import Expo in Shanghai on November 6 (XINHUA)
A huge market
As the world's largest opening-up platform focused on imports, the CIIE was extremely popular among enterprises around the world.
"The Chinese market accounts for 20 percent of our sales. Today, our largest market outside of the United States is Germany, and we expect China to equal what we are selling in Europe," said Joseph A. Braun, Vice President of Hurco Companies, Inc., an Indianapolis-based global industrial automation company that designs and produces interactive computer controls, software and computerized machine systems for metal cutting and metal forming industries.
"The parts that Chinese workers are making today are very sophisticated. They require advanced solutions," Braun said. Typically, a highly trained operator is needed to run a sophisticated machine tool. But for Hurco machines, anyone can work as an operator after receiving 15 minutes of training, which makes it more likely to be widely used in the ongoing upgrading of China's manufacturing industry.
U.S. food and agricultural giant Cargill arranged chefs to cook its quality beef at its booth, attracting streams of visitors. During the first CIIE, the company signed cooperative agreements worth more than $2.4 billion with Chinese partners, covering beef, grain, food ingredients, cotton and iron ore.
"The Chinese market is vital to Cargill," said Liu Jun, President of Cargill China, adding that in the past seven years, Cargill's investment in China has doubled.
"As far as Cargill is concerned, the first CIIE helped us strengthen ties with our stakeholders and gain a better knowledge of the Chinese market," said Liu, who confirmed that the company will continuously scale up its investment in China and join hands with its Chinese partners in providing local consumers with safe, healthy food in a sustainable way.
As supply-side structural reform keeps deepening in China, the country's home appliances industry is restructuring under the influence of digital and intelligent technologies. Against such a backdrop, Whirlpool Corp., a U.S. multinational home appliances manufacturer, opened a smart factory in Hefei, east China's Anhui Province, which went into production in November 2017.
"Chinese people's power of consumption has been growing recently. To fulfill demands arising from consumption upgrading, some new and advanced products should be developed to match specific demands," said Samuel Wu, President of Whirlpool Asia, noting that the company is used to customizing its products to Chinese consumer needs.
A recently unveiled refrigerator named Frozen Age is one example. A special compartment is designed to store skincare products like masks, with the temperature in different compartments can be adjusted to accommodate different types of foods stored.
Wu said Whirlpool Asia has always competed with its Chinese rivals on a fair playing field, while local governments are willing to offer help when operating businesses in China like in the building of the Hefei-based factory.
"With excellent technologies and customized products, we are confident that Whirlpool Asia will manage to grasp the eruptive growth of China's kitchen appliances market in the future," Wu said.
(Reporting from Shanghai)
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
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