Economic turmoil abroad is having a negative knock-on effect on Xinjiang. A dearth of Russian traders and Southeast Asian businessmen is expected today at the opening of the Urumqi Trade Fair, a hammer blow to the autonomous region, which is desperately trying to revive its economy. Organisers say the annual fair has attracted much less interest than in past years. Zhang Ye, vice-director of the Xinjiang Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation Department, said yesterday that many Russian businessmen who had agreed to attend had withdrawn. He said that in past years, the Russians came in droves, but the current turmoil in Moscow seemed to be keeping them away. To compound the problem, Mr Zhang said it was not just the Russians who were staying away, as the number of guests from Southeast Asian countries had also 'dropped off significantly'. The trade fair runs until next Tuesday. The lack of interest in Russia and Southeast Asia could hit Xinjiang's already sluggish economy. In the first half of this year, the region's economy only grew at an annual rate of 4.3 per cent - below the seven per cent average. During a visit to Xinjiang in July, President Jiang Zemin urged local officials to step up their efforts to woo investment from neighbouring countries and other Chinese provinces. He told Xinjiang cadres that they should take advantage of the autonomous region's geographical position and function as a bridge between Asia and Europe, explore international markets and be one of Beijing's windows to the West. Liu Yi, vice-chairman of Xinjiang Economic and Trade Commission, said the region's economic performance would have a crucial impact on local stability. Beijing has been trying to maintain stability in Xinjiang, where separatists have been blamed for bombings and other attacks in recent years. In the recent past, Xinjiang benefited greatly from Beijing's open economic and trade policies, and its trade volume jumped from 75 million yuan (HK$70 million) in 1992 to 1.45 billion yuan last year. Although trade in the first seven months of this year was 10.7 per cent higher than in the same period last year, trade with Southeast Asia and Hong Kong had dropped, Mr Zhang said. The loss had been offset to some extent by trade with other countries bordering Xinjiang, such as Pakistan.