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China’s New Era: International Import Expo

Mar 06, 2018 11:07AM ● Published by Emily Stevenson

By Xiaobo Hu
Director, Center for China Studies, Clemson University

Later this year – precisely Nov. 5th–10th – China will host its first ever International Import Expo and China hopes this will become a new tradition from this year on.

The preparation of this Import Expo started in May 2017 and its mission is to “give firm support to trade liberalization and economic globalization and actively open the Chinese market to the world.” According to the commerce officials at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., the Import Expo will on one hand help meet the rising consumption demands of the 300 million strong middle class in China and on the other hand create another venue to address the issue of trade imbalance, particularly with a few countries, such as the United States.

Recently, China reported a 36.9 percent jump in imports – in contrast to an 11.1 percent increase in exports – for the month of January 2018. According to a Reuters economist poll, China’s imports in January puts China’s import growth at 9.8 percent from a year ago, again in contrast to an estimated 9.6 percent increase in its exports. There has started a change of tide in China’s imports versus exports.

Such a change of tide follows, logically, the tide of change in sales by foreign manufacturers in China in the last decade. More than three decades ago, international companies set up subsidiaries in China for its cheap labor and sold their China-made products back to their home countries. Then, as China’s standard of living increased, these international companies in China increased their sales to the Chinese market. Starting from a decade ago, many international companies in China, old or new, see China as their main growth market, including General Motors, which now now sells more cars in China than it does in any other market around the world.

In addition, China imports more and more food and agricultural products. In 2016, China’s total import of food reached $50 billion, and agricultural products $110 billion. Furthermore, from 2011 to 2015, China’s service imports rose from $248 billion to $467 billion, an annual growth rate of more than 17 percent.

In Shanghai, the inaugural China International Import Expo (CIIE) will include country pavilions, industrial exhibitions, and trade forums.  The industrial exhibitions will be organized into two sections: trade-in goods and services. With a total area of more than 1.9 million square feet, the section of trade in goods consists of six exhibition areas: High-end Intelligent Equipment; Consumer Electronics & Appliances; Automobile; Apparel, Accessories & Consumer Goods; Food & Agricultural Products; and Medical Equipment & Medical Care Products. With a total area close to 323,000 square feet, the section of trade in services consists of five areas: Tourism, Emerging Technologies, Culture & Education, Service Outsourcing, and Creative Design. The trade forums will be organized with three themes: Trade & Openness, Trade & Innovation, and Trade & Investment.

The Import Expo will be held at the National Exhibition and Convention Center in Shanghai, which claims to be “the world’s largest single block building and exhibition complex.” It is expected to attract an estimated 150,000 buyers, including Chinese local trade associations that international companies usually have difficulties to reach. It will take 600 participants for each trade forum.

China’s overall trade surplus for January 2018 was $20.34 billion. With the United States, however, China still has a trade surplus close to $22 billion, though down from $25.6 billion in December. Nonetheless, China’s retail sales of consumer goods were more than $5 trillion in 2016, and the Chinese market has been ever-expanding. There is much room for the U.S. to catch up with exports to China and balance the US-China trade. South Carolina can continue to contribute to this course.

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