Xi says China to 'step up' market opening, raise imports

Mae Love
November 5, 2018

President Xi told an global import fair that the world's second largest economy would buy more goods from overseas, lower tariffs and reduce barriers to foreign investment.

China would "foster a world-class business environment" and its doors will open "ever wider", he said.

He also said he expects China to import $30 trillion worth of goods and $10 trillion worth of services in the next 15 years. China has been the world's second largest merchandise importer for nine consecutive years.

Earlier in the day, President Kenyatta and President Xi held bilateral talks at the Xijiao State Guest Hotel in Shanghai during which they discussed measures to strengthen trade and investment ties between Kenya and China.

US President Donald Trump has railed against China for what he sees as intellectual property theft, entry barriers to US business and a gaping US trade deficit.

Foreign business groups, too, have grown tired of Chinese reform promises, and while opposing Trump's tariffs, have longed warned that China would invite retaliation if it didn't match the openness of its trading partners.

He said "economic globalisation is facing setbacks, multilateralism and the free trade system is under attack, factors of instability and uncertainty are numerous, and risks and obstacles are increasing".

He again underscored the role of economic globalization, saying that it is "an irreversible historical trend" and provides strong momentum for world economic development.

Louis Kuijs, head of Asia economics at Oxford Economics, said the speech was meaningful, if short on fresh initiatives.

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China has cut tariffs and announced other measures this year to boost imports, which rose 15.9 percent in 2017 to $1.8 trillion.

But US officials say that approach amounts to China buying its way out of trouble with a short-term import surge rather than real change, and Washington snubbed the gathering by not sending high-level representation.

"We are encouraged to hear from President Xi the reaffirmation of China's support of global trade, and China's plan to further open itself to the world", said Robert Aspell, president of Asia Pacific for the USA agribusiness company Cargill, which is an exhibitor at the CIIE and has already chose to participate in the second expo. Xi and Trump are expected to meet later this month.

The European Union, which shares United States complaints of Chinese trade policy although it is against the Trump administration's hardball tactics of applying tariffs, has called for Beijing to open its market.

Xi has said the import expo proves China is willing to reduce its foreign trade surpluses.

Presidents and prime ministers from almost 20 countries are attending the trade fair, although no leaders from Western countries are attending.

Top officials of the government-owned company met President Uhuru Kenyatta in Shanghai, China, during which they confirmed plans to set up business in Nairobi.

Swiss President Alain Berset did not make the trip to China, despite being announced as among attendees by China's foreign ministry last week.

Some Western diplomats and businesses have been quietly critical of the expo, arguing it is window dressing to what they see as Beijing's long-standing trade abuses. Tiny São Tomé is selling package holidays.

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