ARAB FLAVOR: Chinese and Arab business people visit the first China-Arab States Economic and Trade Forum in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, on September 26-30 (PENG SHAOZHI)
Trade deals were plentiful at the first China-Arab States Economic and Trade Forum last month, with over 190 deals on investment cooperation totaling 203.56 billion yuan ($30.52 billion) signed between China and Arab states and Muslim regions. The forum, held from September 26 to 30 in Yinchuan, capital of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, aimed to enhance investment and trade ties between China and Arab states.
The first trade forum attracted government officials, business leaders and scholars from 66 countries and regions, including Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Oman. More than 900 domestic and foreign companies joined the event to find cooperation possibilities in each other's countries.
The billions of dollars in investment were mainly from the Arab states funneling money into China.
Ningxia is home to China's largest Muslim community—about 20 percent of the 10 million-plus Chinese Muslims reside in Ningxia. There are 57 Arab states and Muslim regions in the world with a combined population of 1.5 billion people. China similarly has a large population, at 1.3 billion, and both Chinese and Arabs have huge potential for economic and trade cooperation, said Wang Zhengwei, Chairman of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
As the permanent host of the China-Arab States Economic and Trade Forum, Yinchuan will shoulder the responsibility of serving Arab states and Muslim regions to develop relations with China, he said.
"This kind of program has great potential to open up future cooperation between China and Arab countries," said Liu Tianming, Deputy Director of the Ningxia Academy of Social Sciences. "Throughout history, China and Arab countries have had a friendly relationship, so it makes sense that Ningxia would be chosen to host the event and expand trade with the world's Muslim communities."
The forum was also certain to "strengthen and deepen the traditional friendship and win-win cooperation between China and the Arab states, as well as the Muslim regions, to realize mutual development," Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deming said at the opening ceremony on September 26.
Abuyasen Yusuf, Vice President of the China-Arabian Development Association, and Deputy General Manager of the Light of China International Trading Co. Ltd., said most Arabians are Muslims and share the same Muslim food and products with people in Ningxia, one third of whom are Muslims. "My company imports agricultural products like rice and Chinese garments and daily necessities from China. We also sell petroleum products to China," he said, adding that Chinese trade policies are fair and he hasn't met any major difficulties in trading with China.
"The forum will serve as a bridge linking China and Arab countries, which will encourage more businesspeople on both sides to visit each other's respective country to do business," said Tarek Tabbaa, a member of the Board of Directors of the Jordan Chamber of Commerce and General Manager of Al-Tewfik Automobile and Equipment Co. He, too, was looking for business opportunities in Ningxia.
Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu said at the opening ceremony of the forum that cooperation between China and the Arab states has been deep-rooted and that great potential exists for future ties.
According to statistics from China's Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), in 2008, China-Arab bilateral trade reached $132.84 billion, rising 53.7 percent from 2007, and more than six times that of 2000. In the first half of 2010, bilateral trade between China and the Arab states stood at $59.1 billion, surging 52 percent year on year.
By the end of June 2010, China had invested $3.78 billion in Arab countries' food, textile and petrochemical industries. Arab states invested $2.15 billion in the same industries in China.
Minister of Commerce Chen said that both sides should work closely to promote bilateral trade and make the trade volume exceed $200 billion in three to five years. Chen said China has no interest in creating a trade surplus and is willing to upgrade the bilateral trade level and standard. China will improve the quality and technology of its products being exported to the Arab states, while at the same time increasing imports of Arabic products, especially non-resource products, to strike a balance of the structure of trade between the two sides. Chen also called for the two sides to open their markets.
MOFCOM's figures also showed, from 1996-2008, bilateral trade between China and the Arab states grew 29.8 percent annually, during which China became the Arab states' biggest trading partner.
Wang Shengwen, Director General of the Department of Foreign Investment and Economic Cooperation of the MOFCOM, said at the forum that China and the Arab states are complementary in infrastructure construction—China has advantages in management, technology and human resources while the Arab side has a competitive edge in capital and markets.