SHANGHAI — Heads of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) spoke highly of China’s continuous commitment to reform and opening-up on Nov 5, as they attended the inaugural import expo held in Shanghai.
The expo, the first China International Import Expo (CIIE) on Nov 5-10, has attracted more than 3,600 companies from 172 countries, regions and international organizations to showcase their achievements and to look for more opportunities for international cooperation.
While delivering a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the CIIE, President Xi Jinping said that the event is “a major policy for China to push for a new round of high-level opening-up and a major measure for China to take the initiative to open its market to the world.”
He also called for joint efforts to build an open world economy. “All countries should be committed to opening-up and oppose protectionism and unilateralism in a clear-cut stand,” Xi stressed.
In her remarks, IMF chief Christine Lagarde hailed China’s efforts in connecting with the world and making common prosperity possible.
She associated the Lupu Bridge she crossed the previous night in the coastal city of Shanghai with three other “bridges” which China has either constructed or is currently underway.
The first, Lagarde said, was the “bridge to the world” that China started to build 40 years ago. It was constructed by opening its economy and by kickstarting reforms which later “changed the lives and prospects of hundreds of millions of people — here and beyond China.”
By trade, hard work and learning from others, China has helped transform the global economy, said Lagarde, adding that progress in China has played a significant role in boosting productivity, innovation and inadvertently raising the living standards of countries around the globe.
Now, she continued, China is building a “bridge to prosperity” by rebalancing its economy towards consumption-led growth, rather than one based on exports or an investment-led one.
This transition, symbolized by the CIIE, is good for China, especially in terms of the rising standards of living for the Chinese. It is also good for the world, including all those who consider China as a vital and vibrant market for their goods and services, said the IMF chief.
Xi said on Nov 5 that China’s imported goods and services were estimated to exceed $30 trillion and $10 trillion, respectively, in the next 15 years. China has been the world’s second largest merchandise importer for nine consecutive years.
China is also building a “bridge to the future” by harnessing the power of international cooperation, especially on trade, according to Lagarde.
“On behalf of the IMF, I have called on all countries to de-escalate and resolve the current trade disputes and to fix the global trade system, not destroy it. To achieve these goals, we need more international cooperation, not less — and that goes well beyond economics,” she said.
For his part, WB President Jim Yong Kim said China has been persistent in opening-up despite some domestic pains, which included the hardship of workers in state enterprises which were no longer competitive and for farmers who faced lower market prices.
However, China has helped those affected with a better safety net, active labor market policies and lower agriculture taxes and fees. “So by ensuring that all layers of the society gained from the opening-up, China ensured the continued support for the reform program. This is the lesson for everyone,” said Kim.
China rose 32 places this year on the WB’s Doing Business index, said Kim, who particularly hailed the country’s success by dropping the poverty rate in the less wealthy provinces by encouraging e-commerce.
He called on all countries to strengthen the multilateral trading system.
“In recent years, trade liberalization has stalled. And in just the last few years, we have seen the acceleration of the return to protectionism,” he said, adding that “The escalation of tariffs will negatively affect the entire global growth outlook and slow down the pace of poverty reduction …”
“Protectionist trade policies can cause a chain reaction as more countries adopt similar measures,” he warned, stressing that “We need to continue to support trade reforms that can deliver a greater shared prosperity.”
“With trade, we don’t have to choose between inclusiveness and economic growth,” he noted.
WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo, in his speech at the opening ceremony, said the CIIE sends out a clear message about China’s growing role in global trade, and “reminds us of an essential truth, that trade is not a zero-sum game, where exports are good and imports are bad.”
China is becoming increasingly active in the WTO in many ways, including helping other developing and less-developed countries to join and benefit from the trading system through a variety of programs, said Azevedo.
The organization provides the framework of rules and practices which underpin 90 percent of the global trade today. It provides the core foundation on which a greater openness and integration can be built upon, Azevedo said, noting that “We must work together now to strengthen this foundation, and this means working to fight protectionism and to ease the tension we are seeing in global trade relations.”