Xinhua Special: What does an import expo under the pandemic look like?

Source: Xinhua| 2020-11-11 17:46:51|Editor: huaxia

SHANGHAI, Nov. 11 (Xinhua) -- It's November 2020, Shanghai. Joining the more than 24 million people that call this city home are 2,600 exhibitors and 400,000 professional visitors -- all here for the 2020 China International Import Expo, or the CIIE.

The expo, which is in its third year and began Nov. 5, features at its heart a huge exposition space spanning 360,000 square meters, bringing together businesses, innovators, buyers and officials who meet, negotiate, and ink contracts to bring new goods and services to the Chinese market.

While the expo comes against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the exhibition space has actually expanded by 30,000 square meters this year, signaling that restrictions on international travel and personnel exchanges have not dampened exhibitors' resolve to be present.

And, that's why Xinhua correspondent Helen Bentley came here -- to meet some of them and find out their motivations for attending.

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote speech via video at the opening ceremony of the third China International Import Expo held in east China's Shanghai on Nov. 4, 2020. (Xinhua/Ju Peng)

President Xi Jinping delivered a keynote speech at the opening ceremony, elaborating on his vision for strengthened cooperation and wider opening-up.

"We must uphold the principle of mutually beneficial cooperation. We need to build trust rather than second-guess each other; we need to join hands rather than throw punches at each other; and we need to consult rather than slander each other. Bearing in mind the common interests that bind us all, countries need to work together to make economic globalization more open, inclusive and balanced for the benefits of all," said Xi.

Xinhua covered the CIIE each year since its inception in 2018, when the event facilitated deals worth 57.83 billion U.S. dollars. The following year, contracts valued at 71.13 billion U.S. dollars were inked. And this year continued the trend, with agreements valued at 72.62 billion U.S. dollars.

But what products and services do these deals relate to?

-- Consumer goods, food and agriculture, vehicles, healthcare and medical equipment, trade in services, and intelligent industry and information technology.

Many of the exhibitors have enjoyed import exemptions for the products they brought with them.

Photo taken on Nov. 3, 2020 shows a view of the National Exhibition and Convention Center (Shanghai), the main venue of the 3rd China International Import Expo (CIIE), in east China's Shanghai. (Xinhua/Wu Kai)

Many industry leaders choose to launch new products at the CIIE. Japanese cosmetics maker FANCL has attended the expo each year since its inception.

"I just came here on Oct 18, and I had a quarantine period -- 14 days actually. Many major companies from many countries join this CIIE. Many people from China come to visit the event. So it's a very good chance for FANCL to be known by people in China actually. Last year, we gathered 15,000 visitors for this booth actually," said Morikazu Nakagawa, International Business Manager of FANCL Corporation.

"China market is second largest market for FANCL. China is growing very fast. To be frank, in China we are quite positive about this pandemic because Chinese government stopped this pandemic very quickly. This is almost the only country who is on the track to growth," added Nakagawa.

Not surprisingly, COVID-19 has made people more aware of health care and services, and places at the corresponding area here at the CIIE were especially competitive this year.

In the end, 300 exhibitors managed to secure a booth, of which over 70 are Fortune 500 and industry leaders.

A subsection for public health and epidemic prevention debuted this year. Due to demand, the area grew six-fold from its intended space to 12,000 square meters.

Another sign of confidence in the growth of this area is the fact that a number of pharmaceutical giants have signed on to participate in the CIIE for the next three years.

Visitors walk past the booth of Novo Nordisk at the Medical Equipment and Healthcare Products exhibition area during the third China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, east China, Nov. 7, 2020. (Xinhua/Zhang Yuwei)

One industry leader is German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim who returned to the CIIE this year for the second time.

"During the last year's CIIE, we managed to secure contracts worth over 200 million RMB. We also very successfully expanded on our stroke offerings, which will also be showcased this year. We have managed since then to successfully supply already the products to our Chines customers," Dr. Pavol Dobroky, Head of Human Pharma of Boehringer-Ingelheim China told Xinhua.

"We also plan to participate in CIIE also next year because we believe it's a great platform for meeting authorities, customers, partners. It's a great platform for exchange which can drive innovation in China. The pandemic has impacted the whole world and it also has impact on the Chinese market. But we are observing quite a strong rebound of the Chinese economy," said Dobroky.

It is all well and good talking up the number of people who are attending this year -- but what about the well-being and safety of attendees? This is no easy job.

All participants must test negative for COVID-19, the venue is disinfected regularly, and food and exhibited items were also monitored and tested. Added to this, and to support participation, some signing ceremonies and roadshows were moved online.

Up to 70 percent of the world's top 500 companies that have exhibited in the CIIE in the first and second iterations have returned this year, and their exhibition space has increased by 14 percent, including the one that made this car.

"It's the third time. And we've literally just signed a contract about two hours ago to commit to come next year. So we're very committed to CIIE. It's sort of a platform that allows you to turn exhibits very quickly into goods and products for Chinese consumers. It's extremely quickly. So it's a great platform," said Julian Blissett, President of General Motors China.

"The breadth of products and produce here shows you that it's a link to the outside world. And I'm pretty confident that a lot of companies after this will make plans to import their produce and goods here. It's a very live and dynamic research into what people think. So consumers' confidence (in China) is growing, and we're extremely confident about the rest Q4, and also I'm pretty confident about next year," said Blissett.

Photo taken on Nov. 5, 2020 shows the industrial robots of Nachi company from Japan at the Equipment exhibition area during the third China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, east China. (Xinhua/Li Renzi)

The IMF predicts that the global economy will contract by 4.4 percent in 2020, and China will be the only major economy to post positive growth.

Being the world's second largest importer, China has in recent years lowered tariffs on multiple occasions, expanded imports, continuously increased the number of its Free Trade Zones to 21, and upgraded Hainan FTZ to a free trade port.

During the speech at the opening ceremony, President Xi said, "Going forward, China will stay committed to openness, cooperation and unity for win-win results. We will steadfastly expand all-round opening up and explore more efficient ways to connect domestic and foreign markets and share factors of production and resources. Our aim is to turn the China market into a market for the world, a market shared by all, and a market accessible to all. This way, we will be able to bring more positive energy to the global community."

Rather than a solitary event therefore, the CIIE is not only an opportunity for foreign firms to gain access to the Chinese market, but also creates opportunities for growth outside of China's borders.