A pre-CIIE matchmaking meeting for exhibitors and buyers is held in Shanghai on July 27 (XINHUA)
From New Zealand fresh milk to Canadian seafood to South American fruits, Chinese consumers' increasingly discerning tastes present enormous opportunities for foreign businesses. A similar trend is noticeable in consumer spending on world-renowned brand items in automobiles, luxury bags and hi-tech devices. To help keep up with the change in Chinese buying patterns, the first China International Import Expo (CIIE), under the theme of New Era, Shared Future, will be held in Shanghai in less than 100 days.
"The CIIE should be on par with the most renowned expositions in the world, combining country- and enterprise-specific exhibitions and business forums to form a comprehensive international influence," Vice Premier Hu Chunhua said at the 100-day countdown in Shanghai for the opening of the CIIE on July 27.
Over 2,800 companies from over 130 countries and regions have confirmed their attendance at the CIIE on November 5-10. The expo has attracted exhibitors from all G20 members, over 50 countries and regions along the China-proposed Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road and more than 30 of the world's least-developed countries. It's expected that over 150,000 purchasers from home and abroad will attend the event, according to organizers.
"As one of the four major diplomatic events hosted by China this year, the first CIIE is of great significance on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening up," said Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Bingnan.
What makes this expo so special is that it is a major move by China to resolutely support trade liberalization and voluntarily open its markets wider to the world. The CIIE serves as a brand-new springboard for foreign businesses and products eyeing the Chinese market.
An aerial view of Shanghai framed by the Huangpu River (COURTESY PHOTO)
A timely, popular event
Over six decades after China established the China Import and Export Fair (Canton Fair) in Guangzhou in south China's Guangdong Province, originally aimed at exports, the country will hold the world's first import-themed national-level expo on an annual basis. At the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in May 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the decision.
As Xi has reiterated on many occasions, China will not close its doors to the world, but will only open up more and more. "Openness brings progress, while self-seclusion leaves one behind," he said.
Exhibitors' enthusiasm for the first CIIE has exceeded organizers' expectations. "The booth area for businesses was already fully booked in June. We had to expand the booth area twice, from 210,000 to 270,000 square meters," said Sun Chenghai, Deputy Director of the CIIE Bureau. In light of the CIIE's popularity, more than 30 companies and institutions, including many industry leaders, have already signed up for the second CIIE.
Arancha Gonzalez, Executive Director of the International Trade Center, said the CIIE is a very unique fair. "It signals a commitment by China to move from being a global factory to being a global market." With the CIIE, China can share its experience of expanding exports with other economies around the world and help them tap the Chinese market, she said. The expo is "an example of how international trade can be win-win."
Liang Ming, Director of the Foreign Trade Institute with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, said the CIIE comes at the right time. "The world economy is facing challenges from a lack of growth momentum as the trend of anti-globalization emerges and some countries' policies are increasingly domestically focused," he said, adding that mounting trade frictions and investment restrictions pose a great threat to sustained global growth.
"Against this backdrop, the CIIE, with participation from a large number of countries and regions and buyers from home and abroad, will serve as an open platform for global trade. To the greatest extent, it shows China's consistent stance in supporting the multilateral trading system and free trade. It sends a strong signal in opposition to trade protectionism and in support of building and safeguarding an open world economy," Liang said, noting that China's further opening up and increase of imports will greatly increase trade liberalization and inject new impetus into global growth.
Hosting the CIIE also caters to the ongoing consumption upgrade taking place in China amid a continuously expanding middle-income group and increasingly diversified demands. Chinese people have demonstrated an ever-growing purchasing power through hefty spending during overseas trips.
As the world's biggest spenders, Chinese mainland tourists spent $261 billion in 2016, two times that of U.S. tourists' overseas spending. This accounted for nearly 21 percent of the world's tourist consumption, according to a report released by China's leading online travel agency Ctrip and the Center for China and Globalization, a Chinese think tank.
"By hosting the CIIE, China will expand imports of services and high-quality consumer goods to give people more choices, guide Chinese people's overseas spending to flow back, optimize consumption structure and better satiate people's demands for more diversified and tailor-made products," Liang said.
Business community thrilled
China has been the world's second largest importer of goods for nine years in a row and took in 10.2 percent of global imports last year. In the next 15 years, China is expected to import $24 trillion worth of products.
Foreign businesses are coveting market opportunities created by one of the world's fastest growing major economies and the world's biggest middle-income group, who is demanding a better life and higher-quality goods.
In early July, China introduced substantial tariff cuts on automobiles and consumer goods. While tariff cuts reduce the costs of imports, the CIIE aims to provide institutional support by boosting information sharing and bridging supply and demand.
Walter Tong, Greater China Managing Partner for Key Accounts at Ernst & Young, a multinational professional services firm headquartered in London, said the CIIE is not only a bridge connecting exhibitors and buyers, but also a bridge for exhibitors to network and to interact with the government.
"With our professional knowledge and Chinese market knowhow, we can help small and medium-sized foreign businesses expand their operations in China. And the CIIE offers a good opportunity for Ernst & Young to reach more potential clients," Tong told Beijing Review.
He also hailed China's recent moves in opening its financial market wider to the world, especially in the banking and insurance sectors. "We very much look forward to entering this market," Tong said.
Andreas Weller, President of the Asia-Pacific region for German auto parts maker ZF, said the company would display its latest technology in autonomous driving and e-mobility at the CIIE. "ZF is pleased to take part in the CIIE, which is an important means for the sustained opening up of the Chinese economy and a great opportunity for global enterprises to enhance technical exchange and business cooperation," Weller said.
According to Weller, ZF's footprint covers 40 countries and 230 locations worldwide and China takes up nearly 20 percent of its global sales volume, playing a vital part. "We have set up two R&D centers in China, and are committed to enlarging our R&D facilities in China significantly," he said.
Simon Electric is a supplier of high-quality electrical equipment and wiring products. The Spanish company first entered the Chinese market in 1999 and achieved sales revenue of over 1 billion yuan ($147 million) last year, with the goal of at least tripling this figure within three to five years.
"Over the past two decades, our sales revenue in the Chinese market has been increasing at an average of 15 to 20 percent annually," said Zhang Renyu, General Manager of Simon Electric China, adding that China sales now account for roughly 20 percent of the company's global total.
"We applied for a 300-square-meter booth, but with the popularity of the CIIE, we only got 100 square meters," Zhang told Beijing Review.
"We have shared the benefits of China's continued reform and opening up for the past 20 years. Taking part in the first CIIE reflects our confidence in China, in the Chinese market and in the Chinese Government," Zhang said.
"We will consolidate relations with our traditional partners and explore new partners at the first CIIE in November," he added.
(Reporting from Shanghai)
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
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