Xi Jinping pledges to remove trade barriers, says China can weather tariff war

Shanghai | President Xi Jinping has promised to further open up China to foreign investment and break down trade barriers in a keynote speech which emphasised the world’s second-largest economy’s ability to weather a prolonged trade war with the United States.

But the speech, which was heavy on rhetoric and light on detail, lacked any significant new announcements about how China would deliver its message to position itself as an alternative to American protectionism.

Mr Xi told a crowd of major importers from around the world and 150 visiting foreign ministers, including Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, that China’s economy was big enough to withstand US trade tariffs and the country would defend free trade.

“Economic globalisation faces headwinds, and multilateralism and the system of free trade is under threat,” he said. “The bilateral trading system should be defended.”

Mr Xi said China would accelerate the exploration of free trade ports, further reduce tariffs, simplify customs clearance for foreign goods and accelerate the development of cross-border e-commerce.

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He said China’s imported goods would exceed $US30 trillion ($41 trillion) in the next 15 years and services imported in the same period were expected to increase to $US10 trillion. This is potentially good news for the 150 Australian importers attending the President’s signature import-themed trade fair in Shanghai this week.

There had been high hopes the President’s speech at the opening of the China International Import Exhibition (CIIE), which Mr Xi said would become an annual event, would go beyond Beijing’s trademark rhetoric to include some significant new announcements. However, many of the measures mentioned in his speech had been announced previously.

Mr Xi pledged to open up the country’s education and medical care sectors and impose heftier punishments for breaching intellectual property rules, a key concern of the Trump administration.

He said the Chinese economy was stable despite “some sign of challenges”. He referred to the Chinese economy as an “ocean” which could withstand economic ripples.

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