China's Xi promises more market opening at trade fair

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In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses the Global Trade in Services Summit of the 2020 China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) via video in Beijing, China on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. Chinese President Xi Jinping said China will further open to the outside world at the opening ceremony of a massive trade fair in Beijing, the first this large scale trade event integrating online and offline exchanges since the coronavirus outbreak. (Li Tao/Xinhua via AP)

BEIJING – President Xi Jinping pledged to open China’s service industries wider to foreign competitors as its first in-person trade fair since the coronavirus outbreak opened under intensive anti-disease controls.

Xi gave no details in his speech Friday night, but Chinese leaders are emphasizing development of tourism, retailing and other services. They are part of a campaign to nurture economic growth driven by consumer spending instead of exports and investment.

China will “relax market access for service industries” and “actively expand imports of high-quality services,” Xi said at the China International Fair for Trade in Services.

Xi appeared on a video screen before Chinese businesspeople and a handful of foreign VIPs who wore masks and sat in widely spaced chairs at a convention center adjacent to the site of the 2008 Summer Olympics. Most exhibitors from abroad are participating via the internet because Beijing has yet to relax curbs that bar most foreign visitors from the country.

The annual export-oriented Canton Trade Fair in southern China, the world's biggest sales event, was held online in June.

China’s manufacturers are flexible, efficient global competitors, but its fledgling tourism, finance, health care and other service industries lag their Western counterparts. Regulatory barriers limit the ability of foreign banks and other providers to compete in China two decades after Beijing joined the free-trading World Trade Organization.

U.S. officials who are waging a tariff war with Beijing over its trade record point to services, in which the United States runs a surplus with China, as a promising area.

Organizers say 18,000 companies and 100,000 people from 148 countries and regions signed up to take part in the trade fair, which runs through Wednesday.