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China urged to move 'beyond reform rhetoric' at trade expo
[SHANGHAI] European ambassadors and foreign business lobbies are calling on China to introduce "bold" and concrete market reforms at a Shanghai trade fair next week that the government touts as proof of its commitment to opening up.
President Xi Jinping on Monday formally kicks off the week-long China International Import Expo (CIIE), which will gather more than 3,000 foreign businesses from 130 countries seeking to sell their products in China's market.
Mr Xi has raised expectations by saying it will be unlike any trade fair staged in the country and help reduce the massive trading surpluses it runs with other countries such as the United States.
In a phone call with Donald Trump on Thursday, Mr Xi told the US president the expo "shows China's willingness to increase imports and open further", according to an account by Chinese state media.
But trading partners and foreign firms remain sceptical, saying China continually backtracks on promises.
The EU Chamber of Commerce in China urged leaders to "move beyond rhetoric" in a position paper released Friday.
"The reform deficit has already sparked serious tensions with China's major trading partners, so it is imperative that the government makes a concerted effort to address the issue at all levels," it said.
Foreign government and business groups complain over preferential treatment accorded to Chinese firms, requirements that foreign companies form joint ventures with Chinese enterprises, forced technology transfer, intellectual property violations and restrictive red tape.
Mr Trump has targeted such complaints in his escalating trade battle with China that has seen both sides impose tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods.
It remains unknown whether China will unveil any substantive measures next week to address the long-standing complaints.
The French and German ambassadors to Beijing said in a commentary published in Chinese media on Thursday that the expo was an opportunity to "level the playing field".
French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert and Germany's Clemens von Goetze wrote that the time was right, with China nearing next month's 40th anniversary of its historic shift toward economic reforms, urging Beijing to give that effort "fresh impetus".
China is pivoting from an economic model dominated by export manufacturing and investment toward one based increasingly on domestic consumer demand, and the expo purports to welcome more foreign imports.
The United States last week said it will not send "high-level" representation to the expo, instead calling on China to "end its unfair trade practices".
Kenneth Jarrett, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, said the association wants the expo to be "an event with lasting consequences".
"We would like CIIE to mark a turning point in Chinese trade policies. But any measures the Chinese government announces to change its current trading practices must be real and verifiable," Mr Jarrett said.
"Experience has repeatedly shown that regulatory obfuscation and foot-dragging become barriers to fair trade, even when the government has purportedly opened sectors to investment."