By John Ruwitch and Winni Zhou
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Global trade barriers must be removed, and countries should uphold basic multilateral trade principles while standing firm against protectionism, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday.
Speaking at the opening of the Nov. 5-10 China International Import Expo, or CIIE, an annual import show in Shanghai, Xi said more must be done to boost international cooperation and remove barriers to innovation.
He reiterated broad pledges to continue to open China’s economy and markets, and strengthen protection of intellectual property rights.
The remarks come as U.S. and Chinese negotiators work to finalise a text of a “phase one” agreement for U.S. President Donald Trump and Xi to sign this month to ease the nearly 16-month trade war that has dented the global economy.
“There is no single country that can resolve by itself the difficulties facing the development of the world’s economy,” Xi said in a speech.
“We need to join hands with each other instead of letting go of each other’s hands. We need to tear down walls, not to erect walls. We need to stand firm against protectionism and unilateralism. We need to continually bring down trade barriers, optimise global value and supply chains and jointly foster market demand,” he said.
China launched the import expo last year as the China-U.S. trade war was heating up.
Critics say the week-long Chinese buying spree once a year does little to address structural concerns, including weak intellectual property protection, entry barriers and the lack of a level playing field for foreign businesses in China.
French President Emmanuel Macron, attending the expo, called on China to “consolidate” the opening up of its market.
“Much has been done in recent years with two revisions of the negative lists for foreign investment … important tariff reductions have been granted. We call for their consolidation and deepening,” Macron said in remarks that followed Xi’s.
“We need a greater openness of China and its domestic market,” he said, citing the agri-food sector.
“All French, German and European companies expect a lot of China’s promises here.”
Foreign governments and business groups have become sceptical of Chinese reform promises and have longed warned that China would invite retaliation if it didn’t match the openness of its trading partners.
On Tuesday, Xi listed a handful of measures that he said China had taken since last year’s CIIE to open its markets, and took direct aim at criticism.
“This shows that we do honour our commitments,” he said. “And we will deliver on what we have promised.”
China would continue to push its strategy of innovation-driven growth, and foster new engines of growth, Xi said.
“China will throw open its arms, and provide more market opportunities, investment opportunities and growth opportunities for countries in the world, so we can share the growth together.”
Last year, more than 3,600 companies attended CIIE, agreeing to some $57.8 billion in deals.
The expo comes at a rocky time for the Chinese economy with domestic demand stubbornly weak, despite more than a year of growth boosting measures.
“China will better leverage the fundamental role of consumption, actively construct a more proactive domestic market to help provide support for Chinese economic development and expand the global economic growth,” Xi said.
Imports dropped 8.5% in September after a decline of 5.6% in August.
China’s third-quarter economic growth slowed more than expected to its weakest pace in almost three decades, with gross domestic product (GDP) rising just 6.0% year-on-year.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and David Stanway and Marine Pennetier in Shanghai; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)