China's Xi promises a more open consumer market

The China International Import Expo, slated to be held annually will run for six days from Nov 5 to 10

China's Xi promises market opening as import fair begins

Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged on Monday to boost the nation's total imports to more than US$40 trillion in the next 15 years, while warning that USA protectionism has "dealt a blow" to the global free trade system amid a mounting trade war with Washington.

But he also pushed back at the foreign pressure in comments clearly aimed at US President Donald Trump, who has launched a trade war between the world's two largest economies.

Xi's remarks come at a time of heightened tension between China and some of its biggest trade partners, particularly the United States, which has imposed tariffs on $250-billion worth of Chinese goods so far.

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

"Actively expanding imports is not a temporary measure by China, but a long-term, future-oriented strategy to promote the joint development of countries around the world", Xi said in his speech which kicked off the China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai.

It may be noted here that the expo has been met with some foreign scepticism, with Washington snubbing the gathering by not sending high-level representation, instead calling on China to change "unfair" trade practices.

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At an Alibaba investor event in September, Ma warned that the trade war could last as long as two decades. Last year, Xi estimated that China would import $24 trillion worth of goods over the coming 15 years.

Expectations had been low that Xi would announce bold new policies of the kind that many foreign governments and businesses have been seeking.

Howver, he said he was only open to what he called a "fair agreement".

In a speech at Davos almost two years ago, Xi presented China as a beacon of globalisation in a counterpoint to Trump.

China is hosting the first ever import expo that is attended by hundreds of companies and participants from over 130 countries among them Kenyan horticultural farmers and traders. "It is important therefore to correct the trade imbalance and enable a fairer share of trade".

China has a massive trade deficit with nearly every country in the world, with the value of its exports far exceeding the value of its imports.

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China ranks 59th out of 62 countries on openness to foreign direct investment, according to an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranking.

Both are seen as eyeing new ways into China's giant market.

As this year marks the 40th anniversary of the country's reform and opening-up policy, the Asian power, by holding the expo for imports, will try to brush aside criticism that Chinese markets are closed given that they are mainly controlled by the government.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates will join a business forum on Monday, but the touchy optics of attending the expo amid trade rancour resulted in few big-name American CEOs attending.

Democratic leaders may even end up being very critical of any type of relaxation on China trade if Trump begins to reach an agreement with Beijing.

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