Shanghai show will tell all the world that China is open for business

  • The country’s first International Import Expo will attract national leaders, industry chiefs and company bosses from around the globe
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 November, 2018, 5:04am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 November, 2018, 8:31am

China’s first International Import Expo could not be timelier. Chill winds are blowing on global trade with the United States having slapped hefty tariffs on Chinese products, and the free flow of goods, services and people being threatened by protectionist governments.

Chinese experience proves that this is a mistake; the nation’s spectacular growth and development over the past four decades is the result of opening up and enabling economic engagement with the rest of the world.

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The more than 130 countries and regions showing off their best products to the nation in Shanghai next week is confirmation that President Xi Jinping is eager for the process to move forward.

There is great symbolism in the five-day event, which begins on Monday. The 18 national leaders, senior officials from scores of other countries, dozens of heads of multinational companies and more than 3,000 Chinese and foreign firms taking part are committed to globalisation and free trade.

Such a gathering on Chinese soil sends a firm signal that Beijing wants to buy more from other nations. China’s 400 million-strong middle class has a thirst for quality consumer goods, providing a powerful incentive to be involved.

All the presidents and prime ministers attending are from developing nations – Russia, Pakistan and Vietnam among them. No leader from a major economy will be present, the US most prominent among them – although a number will send senior delegations led by government ministers.

There are several reasons, but one much voiced in the West is that China, for all its promises, does not offer a level playing field for doing business. The European Union on Thursday called for concrete steps to further open up its market.

Europe seeks the same benefits for its firms in China that it provides to Chinese companies. The EU wants joint-venture requirements abolished, barriers to internet use lifted, better protection of intellectual property rights and improved procedures for agricultural products.

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The US has similar concerns, although a number of top American businesspeople including Microsoft founder Bill Gates will be at the expo.

China’s vastness and fierce competition are challenges to outsiders wanting to do business.

But Xi and other leaders have promised change and measures are gradually being implemented. Among them, Beijing this month intends to reduce import tariffs on 1,500 industrial products, bringing the overall rate down to 7.5 per cent.

In the wake of the lifting earlier this year of curbs on foreign ownership of carmakers, plans were announced to further relax rules on the financial services sector.

The president’s keynote address at the opening of the expo and the strong showing of exhibitors will add weight to commitments.