China takes aim at trade critics with import expo as US officials stay away

  • The China International Import Expo is a bid to lure foreign investors with promises of greater market access
  • The US has refused to send any senior government officials to the weeklong fair amid trade war
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 November, 2018, 7:34pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 November, 2018, 10:46pm

A large import fair that begins in Shanghai on Monday aims to send the message that China wants to buy more goods from abroad, even as US officials snub the event amid the trade war.

The government-backed China International Import Expo – Beijing’s latest attempt to woo foreign investors and companies with promises of greater market access – will be missing state leaders from the world’s seven most powerful industrialised countries.

The US has refused to send any senior government officials to the November 5-10 exposition as its tariff battle with China continues. Joining it in absentia are fellow G7 nations Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada.

Still, 180 American companies – from carmakers to a gourmet hot dog seller – will be among the more than 3,000 companies exhibiting at the fair, according to its website. Other participants include a number of big US brands caught in the trade war’s crossfire, including General Motors, Tesla, Qualcomm, Walmart and FedEx.

US alcohol retailers also will be there, as will Florida’s Jacksonville Port Authority and business associations such as the San Francisco-based Bay Area Council and the US Soybean Export Council.

Google, which reportedly plans to launch a censored version of its search engine in China, is registered to exhibit as well. News of its planned project raised eyebrows since the US internet giant exited the world’s second-largest economy nearly a decade ago over Beijing’s strict censorship rules.

European businesses hope China launches reforms to improve market access at Shanghai trade fair

Also there will be Microsoft Corp founder and tech billionaire Bill Gates and Ford Motor president and chief executive Jim Hackett.

Under fire from Washington over its trade practices and lack of reciprocal market access, China recently has taken steps to mollify its critics.

It has cut tariffs on imported consumer goods three times this year. Its latest tariff reduction on 1,585 goods, including machinery, paper, textiles and construction materials, began on Thursday.

Jake Parker, vice-president of China operations at the US-China Business Council, which will host a conference at the fair, said China’s latest tariff reductions would create new business opportunities for importers.

“China seems to recognise that it needs to address concerns about how it treated imports,” he said. “But the implementation will be key – that is, through customs and to customers. Many American companies are taking part [in the expo] and hope that new business opportunities will come out of it.”

Beijing praises its own ‘import expo’ despite snub from US

But analysts say tariff reductions alone will not be enough to ease the concerns of businesspeople and investors in the US and elsewhere who want broader structural changes in China to level the playing field for foreign merchants.

Months into the US-China trade conflict, there may be a chance for negotiations if Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump hold talks at the annual G20 meeting in Buenos Aires later this month.

Shi Yinhong, a Chinese government adviser and professor at Renmin University in Beijing, called the import expo a “positive measure” aimed at expanding Chinese imports.

But he said the action alone was “not enough to make most countries and leaders believe China about expanding imports”.

US says it will not send top officials to China import expo in November

“Hopefully, China will continue these actions,” Shi said. “Since Sino-US relations are not good, and the US government’s restrictions and influence on American companies is very strong, the expo will mostly be targeted at countries other than the United States.

“Everything that China does now to improve its trade practices is just the first step in a long march of 10,000 miles,” Shi said.

“Whether they will keep walking, how far they will walk, will all depend on China’s own resolve.”