China will lower import tariffs and continue to broaden market access, President Xi Jinping said on Monday at the opening of a week-long trade expo.
The Expo is seen as an attempt by Beijing to counter mounting criticism of its trade and business practices.
Xi also promised to accelerate opening of the education, telecommunications and cultural sectors.
Meanwhile, he seeks to protect foreign companies’ interests and enhance punitive enforcement for infractions of intellectual property rights.
Xi’s remarks came at a time of heightened tension between China and some of its biggest trade partners, particularly the United States.
The U.S. has imposed tariffs on 250 billion dollars worth of Chinese goods so far and China retaliated with 110 billion dollars worth of tariffs on U.S. goods.
The Nov. 5 to Nov. 10 China International Import Expo, or CIIE, brings thousands of foreign companies together with Chinese buyers.
The brain behind this is a bid to demonstrate the importing potential of the world’s second biggest economy. “CIIE is a major initiative by China to pro-actively open up its market to the world,” Xi said.
U.S. President Donald Trump has railed against China for what he sees as intellectual property theft, entry barriers to U.S. business and a gaping U.S. trade deficit. No senior U.S. officials were set to attend the Shanghai event.
Xi said the import expo showed China’s desire to support global free trade, adding that countries of the world must pursue open policies and oppose protectionism.
He said: “economic globalization is facing setbacks, multi-lateralism and the free trade system is under attack.
”The attack are dictated by increasing factors of instability and numerous uncertainty, and risks and obstacles.”
China expects to import 30 trillion dollars worth of goods and 10 trillion dollars worth of services in the next 15 years, Xi said.
China imported 1.84 trillion dollars of goods in 2017, up 16 per cent, or 255 billion dollars, from a year earlier. Of that total, China imported about 500 billion dollars of goods from the United States.
The Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said in March that China would import 8 trillion dollars of goods in the next five years.
Expectations had been low that Xi would announce bold new policies of the kind that many foreign governments and businesses have been seeking from Beijing.
Instead, people involved in planning meetings have said they were anticipating an event long on symbolism. It will be short on substance meant to signal China’s willingness to narrow trade deficits and openness.
The European Union shares U.S. concerns over China’s trade practices if not Trump’s tariff strategy to address them.
EU on Thursday called for China to take concrete steps to further open its market to foreign firms and provide a level playing field. It added that it would not sign up to any political statement at the forum.
Trump is expected to meet Xi this month, but has said that if a deal is not made with China, he could impose tariffs on another 267 billion dollars in Chinese imports into the United States.
Presidents or prime ministers from 17 countries were set to attend the expo, ranging from Russia and Pakistan to the Cook Islands, though none from major Western nations. Government ministers from several other countries were also coming.
Swiss President Alain Berset did not make the trip to China, despite being announced as among attendees by China’s foreign ministry last week.
The Swiss government said in a statement on Sunday that his visit had never been confirmed.
It said that Secretary of State Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch would represent Switzerland.
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.
Exhibitors from around 140 countries and regions will be on hand, including 404 from Japan, the most of any country.
From the United States, some 136 exhibitors are expected to attend, including Google, Dell Inc, Ford (F.N) and General Electric (GE.N).
A handful of countries are being represented by a single exhibitor selling one product. For Iraq, it’s crude oil while Jamaica would market its famed blue mountain coffee. Chad would be selling its bauxite and tiny São Tomé would sell package holidays.