Digital trade rises as new growth engine of BRI cooperation
Cooperation sparks innovation, fosters mutual advantages
Published: Sep 01, 2022 08:30 PM
Visitors select goods on September 1, 2022 at 2022 China International Fair for Trade in Services. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Visitors select goods on September 1, 2022 at 2022 China International Fair for Trade in Services. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Digital trade has become a growing area of cooperation between China and countries and regions along the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), companies and representatives at the 2022 China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) have said.

The rising trend took place as digital trade has accounted for a growing portion of China's trade in services. Digital trade's share in total services trade grew from 30.6 percent in 2015 to 44.5 percent in 2020, according to domestic news portal

China's annual services trade fair - the 2022 CIFTIS - opened Wednesday in Beijing, with a focus on digital trade.

Diplomats and entrepreneurs from over 30 BRI countries and regions would promote their countries' cultural products via livestreaming at the 2022 CIFTIS, according to domestic news portal

Experts said that China, with its own hyperactive digital sector, has been providing support to the informatization process of developing countries along the BRI routes. Services such as internet and information security, artificial intelligence (AI), integrated circuits design, clouding computing have seen rapid increase in exports.

Rapidly growing sector

Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, said it currently operates 85 availability zones in 28 regions around the world, offering a complete suite of cloud products and solutions from elastic computing and database to network virtualization services and data analytics.

Among those, 18 availability zones are in the Asia-Pacific and the BRI markets, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the company said in a statement sent to the Global Times.

Alibaba Cloud, which participated in the CIFTIS this year, said it put localization high on its agenda as different BRI markets have different paces of digitalization. Industry-specific solutions were also adopted to support the digital transformation of sectors including finance, retail, media and entertainment.

Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Thursday that the advantages of digitalization have offset some of the negative impact of the epidemic.

While China has accelerated its digital transformation since the epidemic, the construction of new digital infrastructure, including livestreaming at home and abroad, and online cultural and creative tourism expos in cooperation with foreign countries, played a helpful role amid the epidemic, Wang said.

A report released at the 2020 CIFTIS indicated a positive growing momentum in digital trade with China and 30 BRI countries. Seven of the top 10 digital partners came from Asia while five were located in Southeast Asia.

Cross-border e-commerce is also a form of digital economy, and China and BRI partners could achieve complementary advantages through digital trade, Wang said.

In 2021, China's cross-border e-commerce trade reached 1.98 trillion yuan ($287.0 billion), with an annual increase of 15 percent, data from the General Administration of Customs showed. 

E-commerce platform, also at the expo, said it is knitting a global e-commerce network covering 110 countries and regions, with the North American and Southeast Asian submarkets as its key focus. It said its cloud service could enhance the efficiency of its trade network.

Wang noted that there is also extensive use of big data including AI to help many BRI countries to achieve leapfrog development with enhanced level of digitization.

China's cross-border payment systems such as Alipay and WeChat Pay were also expanding in Southeast Asia, according to a July report by the Securities Daily.

Alipay was connected with 27 currencies while WeChat Pay supports payment settlement in 26 currencies.

Companies not appearing at this year's CIFTIS also expressed that they felt the potential.

Chinese e-commerce platform said in a statement sent to the Global Time on Wednesday that it is using its cross-border e-commerce platform to channel in high-quality goods from BRI markets, including herbal jelly and rubber pillow from Thailand and candies from Russia.

The company said that it sees services trade as a bridge between the world and the vast Chinese market. Such a bridge offers bigger opportunities for foreign companies eyeing to get a slice of the market, the company said, noting it's focusing on empowering brands from BRI countries with digital capability, marketing power and distribution effectiveness.

"We hope more high-quality brands could achieve faster growth in the Chinese market and share the fruits of prosperity here. A particular focus is given to emerging Southeast Asian market," read the statement.

Wang said there are more innovative forms of trade in services with BRI partnering countries, such as those seen in intellectual property rights cooperation, and these innovations could be copied elsewhere, with partnering countries formulating rules to govern innovation focused cooperation.