China's Xi pledges to lower tariffs, open market access

More than 3,000 companies take part in Shanghai expo despite a worsening trade war with the United States.

    Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday promised to lower import tariffs and continue to broaden market access at the opening of a week-long trade expo seen as an attempt by Beijing to counter mounting criticism of its trade and business practices.

    China will accelerate opening the education, telecommunications and cultural sectors, while protecting foreign companies' interests, Xi said. It will also enhance punitive enforcement for intellectual property rights infractions, he said.

    Beijing will "step up" moves to stimulate domestic consumption of imports, lower tariffs, and ease customs clearance procedures, said Xi.

    "We will foster a world-class business environment," the president said in an address opening the import fair in Shanghai.

    Organisers say more than 3,000 foreign companies - including Facebook, Ford, Microsoft and Samsung - will put their products on display to potential Chinese buyers at the China International Import Expo.

    "It is our sincere commitment to open the Chinese market," Xi told an audience that included Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. He promised to "embrace the world".

    'Highlight the weaknesses'

    Xi has said previously the fair is proof that China, the world's second-biggest economy, is willing to reduce its huge trade surpluses with other countries.

    The US and EU business lobbies in China, and the French and German ambassadors to Beijing, last week called on China to use the expo to announce concrete change.

    Foreign businesses have complained about a range of policies that benefit Chinese firms, including requirements that foreign companies form joint ventures with Chinese partners, forced technology transfers, rampant intellectual property violations, and restrictive bureaucracy.

    Decrying "protectionism", "isolationism" and confrontation, Xi said countries should fix their own houses before targeting others.

    "They should not just point fingers at others to gloss over their own problems," he said. "They should not hold a flashlight in hand, doing nothing but highlight the weaknesses of others and not their own."

    'Do you want a share?'

    The expo has met some foreign scepticism. The US government snubbed the gathering by not sending high-level representation, instead, calling on China to change "unfair" trade practices.

    However, presidents or prime ministers from 18 countries are travelling to Shanghai for the event, ranging from Russia and Pakistan to the Cook Islands.

    Xu Bin, a professor of economics and finance at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai, said he thinks China's leaders have come to realise this year they may ultimately be unable to appease all concerns.

    Microsoft founder Bill Gates with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim before the opening ceremony at the Shanghai expo [Aly Song/Reuters]

    "I think Xi Jinping would not expect any positive reaction from Western countries this time, or in the near future," he told the Reuters news agency.

    "But he still wants to do it to show the relatively poor countries and even rich countries that, look, 'You know, we are going to buy these things from the world. Do you want a share?'"

    Experts say the week-long expo is also a message from Beijing that, as it moves from being an export-based economy to one that relies more on the buying power of its 1.4 billion people, other countries will need to work with China if they want a piece of that action.

    Exhibitors from about 140 countries and regions are attending the fair, including 404 companies from Japan, the most of any nation.

    What's the endgame in the US-China trade war?

    Counting the Cost

    What's the endgame in the US-China trade war?

    SOURCE: News agencies