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Xi pledges wider market access, free-trade deals

He declares world must continue to knock down walls, oppose protectionism, and reduce trade barriers

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Chinese President Xi Jinping (second from right) with his wife Peng Liyuan (right), French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte after a state dinner at the Yu Garden in Shanghai.

Shanghai

CHINESE President Xi Jinping on Tuesday pledged to further open China's economy, declaring the world must "knock down walls" as he opened an annual trade fair in Shanghai.

Mr Xi addressed an audience including French President Emmanuel Macron at the import exhibition, staged annually by China to show its willingness to free up its vast domestic markets in the face of criticism that they are too cosseted by Beijing.

The world community must "continue to knock down walls instead of building walls, resolutely oppose protectionism and unilateralism, (and) continuously reduce trade barriers", Mr Xi said.

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The speech was light on specifics, however, and unlikely to mollify foreign critics who accuse China of a range of protectionist measures and failing to deliver on reform promises.

With China and the US working to lock in a partial trade deal announced last month, Mr Xi steered clear of their tariff war in his remarks. It was a stark contrast to his keynote last year at the height of the trade confrontation, when he took a swipe at the Trump administration, decrying "protectionism", "isolationism" and "the law of the jungle", while not specifically naming the United States.

Speaking after Mr Xi at the event, Mr Macron complained that the US-China trade war "only creates losers" and was weighing on global growth. He said he hoped the world's two largest economies can reach an agreement that also will "preserve the interests" of other trade partners, starting with the European Union (EU).

Without directly naming US President Donald Trump, Mr Macron decried "unilateral action, the use of tariffs as a weapon, (and) survival of the fittest". But the French leader also said that China's market opening "must be speeded up and made more transparent".

Mr Xi told delegates he hoped a China-backed proposed regional trade deal could be signed soon, a day after it was dealt a blow by India's withdrawal.

At the recently-concluded Asean summit meeting in Bangkok, India expressed concerns that its economy would be flooded by cheap Chinese goods as a result of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The RCEP was meant to account for 30 per cent of global gross domestic product and loop in half of the world's people, but also notably excludes the US.

"I hope the agreement will be signed and entered into force at an early date," Mr Xi said in Shanghai.

He said China would be "happy" to reach free-trade agreements with other countries, adding that officials would speed up negotiations on an investment accord with the EU as well as a pact with Japan and South Korea. AFP