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China vows to expand market access as economy faces headwinds

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SHANGHAI — Chinese Premier Li Qiang pledged Sunday to enhance market access and attract more foreign investment as the world’s second-largest economy grapples with a downturn in the real estate sector and a sluggish business environment for overseas companies.

Speaking at the opening of a major trade fair in Shanghai, Li emphasized Beijing’s commitment to promoting an open economy, saying “we will work with all countries to build an open economy,” especially amid a sluggish global economic recovery.

President Xi Jinping reiterated China’s strong commitment to “high-level opening up” in a message delivered at the same time. Xi’s remarks were relayed by Vice Premier Xi Jinping at the opening ceremony of the 6th China International Import Expo (CIIF), where more than 3,400 companies from 128 countries and regions were showcasing their products and services as of last Friday.

China vows to expand market access as economy faces headwinds

Li expects China’s total imports of goods and services to reach a cumulative total of 17 trillion U.S. dollars over the next five years.

The event also witnessed the remarkable development of bilateral relations between China and Australia, with a speech at the ceremony by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, the first Australian prime minister to visit China in nearly seven years. Albanese emphasized the “complementary nature” of the two economies and pledged to strengthen ties in a constructive manner.

China has lifted import restrictions on Australian coal and barley and has been reviewing tariffs on Australian wine imports, a positive sign for the strained relationship under Albanese’s predecessor Scott Morrison.

For the first time since comparable data became available in 1998, China’s foreign direct investment (FDI) saw negative growth in July-September. This decline coincided with concerns about Beijing’s tightening of counterintelligence laws and U.S. restrictions on Chinese semiconductors and electronics and other high-tech projects.

Despite these challenges, the U.S. participated in the Fair for the first time, promoting U.S. agricultural products such as wine, pork, soybeans and grains.

Japanese companies also maintained a strong presence at the fair, including Panasonic Holdings Co, cosmetics maker Shiseido Co and Uniqlo clothing chain operator Xunmai Corp.

As of the end of October, Uniqlo had opened more than 900 stores in more than 200 cities on the Chinese mainland, Jarin Wu, a Xunming Group executive in charge of marketing in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, told reporters. Jarin Wu affirmed the company’s strong commitment to continue investing in the Chinese market.

He noted that Chinese consumers are becoming more discerning in their search for good value products amid slowing economic growth, creating opportunities for Uniqlo, which is known for its innovative and affordable clothing.

The government-linked Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) displayed more than 650 items from some 150 Japanese companies, including products related to camping, winter sports, sake and confectionery, with the aim of helping these companies expand their sales channels in China.

For the first time, the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) booth featured pet care-related goods from Japanese companies, an industry that saw a surge in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, goods such as snowboards also gained attention after the Winter Olympics in Beijing last year.

The number of Japanese sake, shochu and other alcoholic beverages on display at the JETRO booth more than tripled from last year to approximately 180 items. Visitors could taste these sakes directly from taps installed in the pavilion.

In late August, treated radioactive water from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant began to be discharged into the sea, negatively affecting Japanese food exports to China. The Chinese government imposed a total ban on seafood imports from Japan and delayed customs procedures for other food products.

The JETRO official acknowledged that the Fukushima nuclear leak had tarnished the image of Japanese food and beverages and led to the closure of a number of Japanese restaurants in China, but he hoped that the fair would provide a platform to promote Japanese sake and encourage wider consumption.

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