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MOFCOM Regular Press Conference (March 16, 2023)

Shu Jueting: Friends from the press, good afternoon. Welcome to MOFCOM’s regular press conference. Since I don’t have any announcement to make today, we can proceed directly to the Q&A session.

The floor is open.

The Paper: The Ministry of Commerce said that the on-site events of Canton Fair and other exhibitions in China will be fully resumed, which has attracted wide attention. Could you brief on the preparations of the 133rd Canton Fair?

Shu Jueting: The Canton Fair is an important window for China’s opening up and a major platform of foreign trade, serving as a critical channel for Chinese companies to explore the international market. The previous sessions of the Canton Fair have drawn wide attention from the global business community and all walks of life. Since 2020, we’ve introduced new models and held the Fair online for 6 sessions in response to the impact of COVID-19, which has helped keeping the industrial and supply chains of foreign trade unimpeded and the fundamentals of foreign trade and investment stable. As China has optimized and adjusted the response to COVID-19, domestic and foreign enterprises could participate in the Fair on-site now, so starting from the spring session this year, the Canton Fair will fully resume on-site events. The 133rd Canton Fair will be held in Guangzhou from April 15 to May 5 in 3 phrases. It will continue to provide 24/7 service for participants with the online platform.

The 133rd Canton Fair will leverage its newly built venue--Area D for the first time, expanding the exhibition area from 1.18 million to a record-breaking 1.5 million square meters. 54 specialized exhibition sections will host more than 30,000 exhibitors on site, including more than 5,000 quality enterprises such as manufacturing champions for a certain sector and national high-tech enterprises, etc. Thus the quality of exhibitors is improved steadily. Meanwhile, all qualified exhibitors can participate in the Canton Fair online so that more companies could enjoy the benefits. The number of exhibitors participating online will exceed 35,000. Marketing campaigns have been intensified for the upcoming Canton Fair to attract more domestic and overseas buyers. More than 40 “Trade Bridge” matchmaking activities will be organized to help enterprises secure orders and grow markets. During the 133rd Canton Fair, the second Pearl River International Trade Forum, a series of industrial and specialized forums and nearly 400 supporting activities for trade promotion will also be held to drive integrated development of the Fair.

The 133rd Canton Fair is of great significance, as it is the first session held in the first year to fully implement the guiding principles of the 20th National Congress of the CPC and the first session to fully resume on-site events after COVID. The Ministry of Commerce, together with other departments and localities, will do our best to stage a successful Canton Fair, give full play to its role as a platform for all-round opening up, keeping foreign trade stable and improving its structure. Chinese and international companies are welcome to join the grand event of the 133rd Canton Fair for business opportunities.

Economic Information Daily: The 2023 government work report has identified intensifying efforts to attract and utilize foreign investment as one of the eight priorities this year and made a series of plans. It is believed that with a vast and open market, China is sure to provide even greater business opportunities for foreign companies in China. MOFCOM is to hold a series of activities to celebrate the “Invest in China Year”. Could you brief us on that and the considerations about how to further attract investment?

Shu Jueting: Launching the "Invest in China Year" series of investment promotion activities is an important initiative of MOFCOM to implement the decision of the Central Committee of the CPC and the State Council on intensifying efforts to attract and utilize foreign investment. With the theme of "Invest in China, Working Together for a Bright Future of Openness and Prosperity", we will coordinate resources from all sides to attract foreign investment on a regular basis through a series of diversified activities. Efforts are focused on building platforms, connecting channels and precise matchmaking to fully unveil the investment opportunities of various localities across China, and make the "Invest in China" brand a great success. We will hold activities throughout the year, covering the Eastern, Central and Western China.

Activities are mainly divided into three categories. First, comprehensive activities will be carried out including a launching ceremony of the “Invest in China Year”, keynote forums, summits, etc. on the sidelines of major expos. Second, representatives of relevant localities and enterprises are to go overseas to throw special promotional events. Taking into account industrial development and demands for foreign investment, we will see that economic and commercial offices in Chinese embassies and investment promotion agencies overseas play a better role in matchmaking and supporting localities in attracting the foreign investment that they need most. Third, special promotional events will be held in relevant provinces, together with other activities such as the local trips of multinational companies and CIIE local roadshows, etc., which will highlight local characteristics, and aim to enhance mutual understanding.

While carrying out the "Invest in China Year" series of activities, we will work to make market access still greater for foreign investment, steadily expand the institutional opening up, and strive to create an enabling business environment that is based on market principles, governed by law and up to international standards. We will leverage various open platforms to achieve a higher level of investment liberalization and facilitation, and better facilitate the introduction of foreign-invested projects. We will give full play to the special task force for major foreign-invested projects to provide "whole life cycle" services and help foreign enterprises to better explore the China market, grasp new opportunities and create more mutual benefits. Thank you.

Reuters: It has been reported that despite trade restrictions on Australian coal exports since the end of 2020, port and customs authorities have been told to allow Australian coal to be shipped into China. Will the announcement that these restrictions have been lifted be made soon?

Shu Jueting: China uses an automatic licensing management system for coal imports and automatic permits for coal imports can be applied for normally. It is important to emphasize that China manages foreign trade in accordance with WTO rules and Chinese laws and regulations, and it is inappropriate to misinterpret the relevant management methods as restrictive measures. Thank you.

CNS: China's imports and exports in the first two months of this year fell 0.8% year-on-year, or 8.3% in dollar terms. How does MOFCOM assess the performance of foreign trade in the first two months and what is the prediction of the future trend of foreign trade?

Shu Jueting: In the first two months of this year, China's total import and export of goods amounted to RMB 6.18 trillion, basically unchanged from the same period last year. Foreign trade has kicked off to a steady start and shown great resilience. It is mainly manifested in the following two aspects.

Foreign trade volume remains stable. In the first two months, despite the challenges of weakening external demand, the total import and export of goods registered more than RMB 6 trillion, the second highest in history for the same period. Against the backdrop of a general decline in exports of neighboring countries, China's exports in dollar terms only declined in single digit and achieved positive growth in RMB terms.

Foreign trade mix continues to upgrade. Private enterprises are more active, with their import and export up by 5.3% and accounting for 51.2%, an increase of 3 percentage points over the same period last year. Trade ties with emerging markets have been cemented. The import and export to ASEAN and countries along the "Belt and Road" grew by 9.6% and 10.1% respectively, with a good momentum of trade in high-tech and high value-added products. Auto exports rose by 78.9%.

This can be attributed to a domestic economy that has stabilized and picked up, smoother cross-border exchanges, new drivers of foreign trade that are unleashing potential at a quicker pace and Chinese market entities rising to challenges head on. Meanwhile, the many rounds of policies and initiatives we have introduced continue to pay off.

In the report on the work of the government this year, it was noted that many difficulties and challenges still confront China; uncertainties in the external environment are on the rise. Global inflation remains high, global economic and trade growth is losing steam, and external attempts to suppress and contain China are escalating. These difficulties and challenges, particularly outstanding in the field of foreign trade, have a significant influence on this year’s foreign trade trends. Most local governments and companies say that weakening external demand and decreasing orders are top challenges to foreign trade at this moment, while other trade-related risks are mounting, including impeded collection of payment from some countries. After extensive and in-depth study and investigation to learn the needs of local governments and businesses, MOFCOM is working with relevant authorities to explore policies to stabilize the size of foreign trade and improve its mix. Following the overall plan of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, and with the joint efforts of all local governments, government authorities and foreign trade companies, we are confident in keeping up the stable development of foreign trade, to make new contribution to the stability and recovery of China’s economy. Thank you.

China Business News: This year, MOFCOM will continue to organize CIIE promotion events in China’s provinces. Do you have any information to share?

Shu Jueting: To deliver on General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important instruction of “letting exhibitors spot more investment opportunities” and allow better play of the CIIE as an important platform for investment promotion, since 2021, MOFCOM has started to organize CIIE investment promotion activities in China’s provinces, themed “to boost dual circulation by introducing more foreign investment”. These activities have been warmly received and successful. Like I said, this year, MOFCOM will organize “Invest in China Year” and related activities, covering both “bringing in” and “going global”. The CIIE local investment promotion events are integral parts of the latter.

CIIE in Jilin, to be held on March 22-24, will be the first event, both for CIIE local investment promotion events in 2023, and for the “bringing in” section of “Invest in China Year”. With a focus on competitive industries in Jilin Province, CIIE in Jilin will set the stage for trade fairs and industry investment matchmaking, together with on-site inspections and seminars, where businesses and institutions participating in the CIIE from automobile, food, equipment manufacturing, health and other sectors will be invited. Industry investment matchmaking events will be tailored for different companies, so that the needs of the participants can be better met. The preparatory work is well under way, and you are welcome to follow these events. Thank you.

Kyodo News: It is reported that China will fully resume coal import from Australia. Could you confirm that? If so, what does it mean for China’s energy supply and China-Australia trade? Will China also open up import of other Australian goods, such as lobster, beef, barley and wine?

Shu Jueting: On coal export, I have just answered a related question. Coal import in China is administered by an automatic licensing system, and the licenses can be applied normally. Mutually beneficial trade and economic cooperation between China and Australia is in the shared interests of our two countries and peoples. Our bilateral trade is carried out by our businesses, in line with the demands and conditions on the market, as well as laws and regulations. The inspection, quarantine and trade remedy measures taken by China for certain goods are in strict accordance with Chinese laws and regulations and WTO rules.

China is ready to communicate some of the technical issues of our respective concerns in our trade with Australia and find solutions that are mutually beneficial. At the same time, we hope that Australia can move in the same direction as China, create a fair, open and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese traders and investors, and inject more positive elements into China-Australia trade and economic cooperation. Thank you.

TASS Russian News Agency: The Black Sea Grain Initiative for food export from Ukraine was extended by 60 days after it expired on March 18. Against this background, does China plan to increase food export to African countries? What comments does MOFCOM have on China’s food export to Africa recently? How do you comment on the 60-day extension of the agreement?

Shu Jueting: In recent years, global food security has been under great impact due to COVID-19, extreme weather, and geopolitical conflicts. The situation is even more acute in Africa. Bearing in mind that mankind is a community with a shared future, China has supported businesses in conducting food trade with Africa, and provided emergency food assistance to African countries in need. China has also sent experts to share experiences, expand agricultural investments, and engaged in agricultural processing and machinery making to support food self-sufficiency in African countries. Statistics show that China has contributed more funding, sent more experts, and operated more projects than other developing countries under the South-South Cooperation Framework of the FAO, making important contributions to easing food supply and maintaining global food security.

China stands ready to work with the international community to ensure normal function of global food industrial chains and supply chains to ensure stable and and unimpeded food trade, and jointly support African countries in enhancing food supply through various means, including trade, assistance, and industrial cooperation.

As for the Black Sea Grain Initiative, it is an important arrangement reached after several rounds of consultations between the UN, Russia, Türkiye, and Ukraine, and is significant to food security in Africa and the world. China supports continued communication between all interested parties to find a solution that can address concerns of all parties. Thank you.

The Cover: We noted that in a letter to the Dutch Parliament, Liesje Schreinemacher, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, announced the decision to restrict the export of semi-conductor technologies for national security reasons. What’s your comment on that?

Shu Jueting: China noted the development. China and the Netherlands have maintained communication on issues in bilateral trade and economic cooperation. In recent years, a certain country has generalized the national security concept to defend its hegemony, abused export control measures, and even coerced some countries to adopt trade protection practices against China at the expense of the interests of its allies. The deliberate decoupling move has severly hampered global economic recovery and development.

We expect the Netherlands to comply with international trade rules for its own long-term interests and act on fair and impartial market principles, instead of abusing export restriction measures. Let us work together to maintain stability in global industrial chains and supply chains, and uphold the shared interests of the two countries and business communities. Thank you.

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