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Decorations at last year’s China International Import Expo (CIIE), Shanghai. Photo: Xinhua

China looks to draw more foreign capital during Shanghai import trade fair, revive fortunes of annual event after Covid woes

  • The event will feature success stories for foreign investors in the world’s second-largest economy to promote investment potential
  • CIIE will reflect the positive role of foreign companies in upgrading China’s industrial mix and spurring social development, say organisers
China trade

Beijing has upped expectations for its largest import trade fair as it seeks to draw more foreign capital after nearly three years of stringent Covid-19 border restrictions and heightened tensions with the United States.

The China International Import Expo (CIIE) will be held in Shanghai from November 5 to 10 in a new exhibition hall. The event will feature success stories for foreign investors in the world’s second-largest economy, to promote the country’s investment potential, Sun Chenghai, deputy director of the CIIE Bureau, a unit of the Ministry of Commerce, told a media briefing on Tuesday.

The exhibition will “encourage foreign businesses to increase investment [in China] and boost their confidence in chasing our growth dividend,” he said. “It will also reflect the positive role of foreign companies in upgrading China’s industrial mix and spurring social development.”

The annual event, which was inaugurated in 2018 at the direction of Chinese President Xi Jinping, is designed to spur purchases of imported goods and services by mainland companies as a way of showing Beijing’s willingness to further open up its markets.

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However, China’s zero-Covid policy has become a barrier for visits to China by foreign traders in recent years, with deal value declining for the first time in four years in 2021. Chinese companies bought US$70.7 billion worth of goods during the six-day event last year, a decline of 2.6 per cent from 2020.

An exhibition area is pictured at the National Exhibition and Convention Center (Shanghai), the main venue for the upcoming fifth China International Import Expo (CIIE), Oct. 31, 2022. Photo: Xinhua

“The import trade fair has been one of the few platforms for foreign companies and investors to form business ties with Chinese firms over the past three years,” said Qiao Yide, vice-chairman of the Shanghai Development Research Foundation. “Those who are determined to do business and invest in China have taken advantage of the trade fair to build relationships here.”

The CIIE bureau has yet to unveil the total number of exhibitors at this year’s event, but it did say that 90 per cent of the 2,900 companies that displayed their goods and services at the National Exhibition and Convention Center in the city’s southwestern Qingpu district last year would return to the show.

Cameron Johnson, a board member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, said the event still appeared to be attractive to US businesses.

“For about the last three years, few people could really get into China,” he said. “The expo is the ultimate channel for businessmen to get to know the Chinese market, showcase products and services. These are the primary reasons for companies to join the expo.”

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Doug Barry, vice-president of communications and publications with the US-China Business Council, said the CIIE remained a venue for US companies to fill order books for the year ahead despite geopolitical turmoil, Covid lockdowns and weakening domestic demand.

“As the largest delegation at the show, US companies are sending a message that they have confidence in the market,” he said. “Growth will continue and government leaders will find ways to preserve the commercial side of the relationship and the millions of jobs in both countries that depend on it.”

About 200 American businesses will participate in this year’s CIIE, roughly unchanged from last year, according to the business council.

City officials are determined to keep the highly transmissible Omicron variant of Covid-19 at bay during the event, requiring all participants to be fully vaccinated and provide records of negative nucleic acid tests taken within 24 hours of entering the venue.

Zhang Xiaodi, an associate researcher at the Institute of Economics at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said the six-day show would be a testing ground for Shanghai’s further opening amid its increasing profile in the global economy. “The CIIE [amid the pandemic] has seen Shanghai display its infrastructure and ‘soft power’,” she said.