China-CEEC expo kicks off with record participation, as nations boost trade despite geopolitical noise
Published: May 16, 2023 09:53 PM Updated: May 16, 2023 10:50 PM
A huge theme sculpture of the China-Central and Eastern European Countries Expo, or China-CEEC Expo is displayed in Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang Province on May 14, 2023. The third China-CEEC Expo and International Consumer Goods Fair will be held in the city from May 16 to 20. (See story on Page 10) Photo: VCG

A huge theme sculpture of the China-Central and Eastern European Countries Expo, or China-CEEC Expo is displayed in Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang Province on May 14, 2023. The third China-CEEC Expo and International Consumer Goods Fair will be held in the city from May 16 to 20. (See story on Page 10) Photo: VCG

The 3rd China-Central & Eastern European Countries (CEEC) Expo officially kicked off in Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang Province on Tuesday, drawing a record number of participants as many CEEC businesses are keen to introduce everything from agricultural products to wine to ski equipment to the vast Chinese market.

The scale of the expo and steady growth in China-CEEC trade underscores the great potential for further expansion of China-CEEC win-win economic and trade cooperation, despite the geopolitical noises emanating from anti-China forces in the region and in the US that aim to undermine China-CEEC ties, analysts noted. 

Such potential is reflected in the record participation at the China-CEEC Expo and International Consumer Goods Fair, which will last until Saturday. This year's expo has drawn more than 3,000 exhibitors, an increase of 30 percent compared with the previous event and a fresh record, according to officials. Among them, more than 400 CEEC companies are attending, with some 100,000 people  expected to visit the expo. 

The expo is held at a brand-new venue with an even more professional form of exhibition that includes a services trade exhibition area. 

"We're a delegation from Serbia. There are 35 people. As a delegation, we're here [for the] first time; but some of our colleagues are here for the second or third time, and some of them live here in China in Ningbo," Dragana Miljojkovic, a wine exporter from Serbia, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Miljojkovic said the Serbian delegation is mainly focused on exports of products such as coffee, juices, wines and fruit. "Great market definitely," she said of the potential of the Chinese market, adding that the expo offers her a chance to come and learn about the market to "make the best possible offer for the market."

In order to facilitate business cooperation, the expo held the first singing ceremony for business deals, where 10 import deals and five cooperation programs, with a total value of 2.18 billion yuan, were inked. The import deals cover a wide range of agricultural products such as meat and dairy as well as other consumer products such as ski equipment and health products.

This fully demonstrates the strong momentum of economic and trade cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European countries," the organizer of the expo said in a press release following the opening ceremony on Tuesday. 

Speaking at the ceremony, Wang Yong, vice chairman of the 14th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said that in recent years, with the joint efforts of all parties, economic and trade cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European countries has achieved fruitful results.

Wang further noted that China stands ready to work with all sides to continuously release the cooperation potential between China and Central and Eastern European countries, and jointly promote the steady and long-term practical cooperation between China and CEECs.

At a regular press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said the expo and other related events help promote exchanges and cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European countries in an all-round way and China is willing to share China's development dividend with CEECs, promote more practical cooperation results, and achieve mutual benefit and win-win results.

Since 2012, China's trade with CEECs has grown by an average of 8.1 percent annually, and China's imports from CEECs have grown by an average of 9.2 percent annually, according to official Chinese data. In the first four months of 2023, China-CEEC trade grew by 2.8 percent year-on-year to $44.87 billion, with China's imports of agricultural products from CEEC jumping by 43.1 percent year-on-year. 

Geopolitical noise

Despite steady growth in China-CEEC economic and trade cooperation, some anti-China forces in Europe and the US have in recent years been seeking to undermine such win-win cooperation, as part of their broader containment strategy against China, analysts noted. 

Countries such as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have moved to withdraw from a cooperation mechanism between China and CEECs. Politicians in the Czech Republic are also reportedly calling for the country's withdrawal from the mechanism. Such moves come as many in Europe have been heavily influenced by the US' anti-China stance in the previously years. 

Liu Zuokui, a research fellow on European studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that despite geopolitical shifts in certain CEECs, they are also hoping to further expand trade with China. "Currently, CEECs need China's market for many things," Liu told the Global Times on Tuesday, pointing to Chinese demand for agricultural products from CEECs as well as Chinese investments into CEECs. There is also great potential for China-CEEC cooperation in areas such as tourism and logistics.

At the expo in Ningbo, many business representatives expressed great expectations for further cooperation. Jiang Liaoliang, who represents the Swiss oral healthcare brand Curaprox at the expo said that the company pays great attention to the rapidly growing Chinese market.

"Through the comparison between the European and US markets and the Chinese market, we found that the Chinese market is huge. With the continuous growth of the economy and the continuous improvement of people's living standards, China's oral medical industry is experiencing rapid development," Jiang told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Recently, there have been growing calls within Europe to oppose a so-called decoupling with China and refuse to follow the US recklessly on issues related to China. And as China's economy is swiftly recovering in the post-pandemic era, China's economic cooperation with CEECs and other countries is expanding, analysts said. 

During a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Monday, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto said that Hungary regards China as a strategic partner and an important development opportunity. Hungary welcomes Chinese investment and opposes decoupling and severing of the chains, Szijjarto said, adding that Hungary is willing to strengthen cooperation with China in various fields, and firmly supports China-CEEC cooperation and the development of EU-China relations, according to Xinhua. 

Szijjarto came to China to attend the third China-CEEC Expo, where Hungary is the only guest of honor country. The Hungarian delegation led by Szijjarto fully demonstrates Hungary's support for China-CEEC cooperation and the great importance it attaches to bilateral ties, Qin said. 

China-Hungary cooperation has been particularly expanding. In addition to trade, Chinese firms are increasing investment in the country, including $3.3 billion in new Chinese investments in the automotive sector, Bloomberg reported on Monday.