Chinese Premier Li Qiang delivered a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the 6th China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai on Sunday, pledging to continue deepening reforms, expanding free trade zones and easing market access for foreign investment. The expo, which has been held annually since 2018, aims to boost China’s image as a supporter of free trade and attract foreign companies to invest in the country.
Despite the recent economic downturn, Li expressed optimism about China’s economic outlook, saying that China will “further liberalize market access, protect the rights and interests of foreign investment in accordance with the law, and continue to create a market-oriented business environment” that is “geared towards the rule of law and internationalization.”
Li’s comments come as foreign companies have expressed concern about China’s deteriorating investment climate, particularly new legislation that could deem possession of standard economic forecasts as espionage. U.S. companies in particular have expressed concern that the restrictions make it difficult for them to invest in China without taking significant risks.
Despite these concerns, Li emphasized China’s commitment to expanding trade and investment with the world’s second largest economy. He noted that China will continue to “actively seek to join the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the Digital Economy Partnership, and negotiate higher-level free trade agreements.”
In a positive development, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Abernathy, who is currently on an official visit to China, has announced that China will significantly reduce trade barriers that cost Australian exporters A$2 billion (US$1.3 billion) a year. These barriers have now been reduced to about A$200 million (US$100 million).
Albanese also said that Australia would not support China’s membership of the CPTPP, citing concerns that China did not meet the proposed criteria. However, he expressed a willingness to work with China on issues such as climate change and agricultural challenges.
Overall, the Fair is a platform for China to demonstrate its commitment to free trade and economic cooperation. While challenges remain, Li Qiang’s speech and the announcement to reduce trade barriers with Australia show that China is taking steps to address the concerns of foreign investors and create a more open and competitive business environment.