Li pledges 'fertile' Chinese market for foreign investment at Canton Fair opening
China vows to open up further, urges global cooperation
Published: Oct 14, 2021 10:53 PM Updated: Oct 14, 2021 10:54 PM
Staff members walk past a banner outside the exhibition center that is going to host the 130th session of the China Import and Export Fair in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong province.Photo: Xinhua

Staff members walk past a banner outside the exhibition center that is going to host the 130th session of the China Import and Export Fair in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong province.Photo: Xinhua

 China vowed again to open up its economy further and made a call for global cooperation, as the country opened its landmark trade fair on Thursday in Guangzhou, the first time both in-person and online since the coronavirus hit, a move which experts said not only marked a genuine recovery of the Chinese economy, but also demonstrated China's responsibility to secure global supply chains amid the pandemic crisis. 

The 130th session of the China Import and Export Fair, more commonly known as the Canton Fair, has created many firsts in the event's history. The fair, which attracts more than 30,000 exhibitors offline and online, is the world's largest in-person trade fair since the coronavirus outbreak. It also witnessed the attendance of Chinese Premier at the grand opening ceremony and a trade forum, which raised the confidence of attendees in China's focus to boost trade. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory letter to the fair on Thursday, saying that China is willing to join hands with all other nations and practice real multilateralism to build a world economy featuring high-level openness.

The five-day event, which will officially start on Friday and last till Tuesday, attended by government officials and business executives, is expected to further expand cooperation, exchanges and sales between China and other countries. A total of 7,795 companies will display their latest technologies and products in a 400,000-square-meter exhibition area, and an additional 26,000 firms will exhibit their goods online. 

The Canton Fair has been held every spring and autumn since its first launch in 1957 and has been seen as a barometer of China's foreign trade.  

Holding the fair not only marks the Chinese economy's "genuine" recovery after the coronavirus hit, but also demonstrates China's responsibility and capability to secure global supplies during major crises, experts said. 

"It shows China's services and supply chains have normalized (after COVID-19), which is significant to stabilizing global supplies and rejuvenating the world economy," Zhu Qiucheng, CEO of Ningbo New Oriental Electric Industrial Development and also an exhibitor, told the Global Times. 

Canton Fair in numbers Graphic:Feng Qingyin/GT

Canton Fair in numbers Graphic:Feng Qingyin/GT

Opening-up message 

Addressing the opening ceremony of the Canton Fair, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang urged the international community to carry out fair, free and mutual-beneficial trade, while saying that countries should play to their own strengths to expand global markets jointly.

Li pledged to keep the Chinese market as the "fertile soil" for foreign investment and continue to shrink the list of sectors that are off-limits to foreign investors.

China will actively participate in improving the international trade rules, and advance forward trade and investment liberalization, Li said.  

The country will push the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership to go into effect along with the pact's other members. It will also actively advance the process of joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership while moving to sign more high-standard free trade deals.

Xi's congratulatory letter and Li's speech sent the message that China is determined to embrace opening-up despite external challenges, a direction which has and will help China meet its economic ambitions, experts said. 

"China is sending a firm signal to the whole world that it will stick to opening-up and closely link its economy with the world economy," Tian Yun, former vice director of the Beijing Economic Operation Association, told the Global Times. 

He said it would be an inevitable trend for trade to play an increasingly important role in fueling economic growth, when other sectors, like properties, are in a process of correction to prevent risks. 

Wang Peng, an assistant professor at the Gaoling School of Artificial Intelligence at the Renmin University of China, also said that holding of the Canton Fair amid a global pandemic may be more significant to the world (than normal times), as it shows that China's determination to open up will not be stopped despite multiple negative consequences caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

"It means China's development strategies of dual circulation do not close the gates to the world, but generate more opportunities to international cooperation partners," he said. 

During the 130th Canton Fair, the Hong Kong economy has become a highlight. On Thursday, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Carrie Lam attended the Pearl River International Trade Forum, held for the first time during the Canton Fair. 

Li also said that China will establish digital trade pilot areas in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, while pushing for the construction of overseas smart logistics platforms in the area.

"This is an encouraging sign that Hong Kong is increasingly integrating into the mainland's development," Tian said. He noted that the merging of Hong Kong's efficient trade networks and the mainland's manufacturing would not only boost Hong Kong's trade, but can mold the Greater Bay Area into the world's most influential economic zone.  

Canton Fair Photo: VCG

Canton Fair Photo: VCG

Feeling thrilled

The government's embrace of opening-up policies and focus on boosting trade also generated optimism among the exhibitors, who expressed confidence in China's trade prospects. 

Ying Xiuzhen, president of China-Base Ningbo Foreign Trade Company,  told the Global Times that holding the Canton Fair amid pandemic makes her feel excited and confident, as it showed the government is attaching great importance to the trade sector. 

As a veteran trader, she said she felt there's "nothing to fear," as China's trade development has been very "normal" in whatever difficulties the country faces, whether they be the Asian financial crisis or the US tariff hikes. 

Luo Guiping, a staff member of Primary Corporation, a Shenzhen-based kitchen and bath facilities provider, told the Global Times on Thursday that after three suspensions of offline fairs due to the effects of the pandemic, the resumption of the Canton Fair has significant meaning for her company. 

"Although the combination of online and in-person exhibition will bring challenges and opportunities for us, I have confidence that our business will expand under the new international circumstances," Luo said. 

The Global Times saw approximately 600 people attending the opening ceremony in person, most of whom were representatives of exhibitors who will attend the fair in person and buyers from all over the world. 

People talked excitedly and took photos in front of the Canton Fair logo. Many of the exhibitors said that they still cannot believe that such a big international fair is being held in person amid the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.