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China's Xi promises more market opening at trade fair

BEIJING (AP) — 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.

China, where the pandemic began in December, was the first economy to shut down and the first to begin the struggle to revive business after the ruling party declared victory over the disease in March. Factories, office towers and shopping malls have reopened but visitors to public buildings in Beijing still are checked for fever by masked guards.

China became the first economy to return to growth with a 3.2% expansion over a year earlier in the three months ending in June, rebounding from the previous quarter’s 6.8% contraction. The trade fair has three-dimensional technology for foreign vendors to show goods and secure online communications to talk to customers, the director of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Commerce, Yan Ligang, told reporters on Thursday.

Guests and staff must wear masks and will be checked throughout the day for fever, according to Yan. He said organizers will “restrict the flow” of people and the building will be tested for the virus and disinfected every day.

Some 200 medical, disease control and first aid staff will be on duty, Yan said. Chinese companies plan to showcase possible coronavirus vaccines that are under development, according to the Beijing Health Commission. It said some will display tools that can detect the virus in 30 minutes.

Other planned exhibitions include cultural, financial and public health services, next-generation telecoms and service robots. The coronavirus “cannot stop the development of service trade, nor can it stop our confidence and action to work together,” Xi said.

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