China looks to non-manufacturing sector as new economic powerhouse

A trade fair in Beijing has shown that China is steadily steering toward knowledge and technology-intensive services.

A trade fair in Beijing has shown that China is steadily steering toward knowledge and technology-intensive services.

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The five-day 2019 China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) ended last Saturday in Beijing, with intended contracts worth $105 billion signed.

The contracts, involving financial services, communication services, information technology services, cultural services and legal services, signal growing momentum in China’s non-manufacturing sector.

Over the week, the world’s largest services trade fair hosted some 240 forums and business talks, which occupied nearly all major conference venues in the Chinese capital.

Yan Ligang, the fair’s spokesperson, said 11 venues saw more than 400,000 visits by participants from 137 countries and regions and 21 international organizations.

He said in total, 306 domestic projects worth $87.51 billion were signed at the fair. There were also 134 overseas projects with a total value of $17.55 billion.

As the non-manufacturing sector continues to see expanding growth, the Chinese government from this year upgraded the biennial fair formerly held by the municipal government of Beijing since 2012 to a national fair for trade in services, which will now be held annually.

Breaking barriers

Many foreign visitors described CIFTIS as crucial to addressing the challenges facing the world economy.

“As national barriers to trade in services are mounting in numbers, CIFTIS gathers us together to discuss this issue in a timely manner and jointly explore the path to promote trade in service and create a favorable trading environment,” said Ludger Schuknecht, deputy secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in his speech at the fair.

“At these difficult times in global trade, keeping the door open is a contribution that China can do to boost confidence in international trade and stabilize global demand,” said Dorothy Tembo, deputy executive director of the International Trade Center (ITC), at CIFTIS.

She said as a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, ITC is dedicated to supporting SMEs around the world. It supported 100 companies from developing countries to attend the first China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai last year. These companies initiated deals worth over $116 million after the event.

At a forum discussion at CIFTIS, Tembo said a WTO study found that by lowering costs and increasing productivity, digital technologies could provide an additional boost to trade of up to 34 percent by 2030.

Future is here

At an e-commerce themed exhibition area of CIFTIS, visitors were welcomed at the doorway by an exhibition of a smart home with intelligent furnishing presented by Gome Intelligent Technology Co. Ltd., the tech arm of Chinese home appliance retailer GOME.

From door locks and lighting to home appliances, everything is voice-controlled and connected to the Internet through remote control via a mobile app.

Nearby, the booth run by China’s online retail firm JD exhibited a fully automated “whole in- and ex-warehouse process” for small and medium-sized packages.

Even pictures on walls at the fair had a new tech touch. Next to photos of China’s poverty-stricken areas, visitors could scan QR codes underneath to find not only details but also local specialties that could be immediately ordered online, such as tea and pear syrup, as e-commerce sales of farm produce form part of China’s poverty relief efforts.

The fair’s organizer held an auction of agricultural goods and future orders of goods, which garnered 1.4 billion yuan ($202.8 million) of funds to assist growers’ poverty relief efforts.

Worawit Techasupakura, a tourist official from Thailand, said a cohort of enterprises from Thailand’s competitive industries including food, medical services and environmental protection participated in this session of CIFTIS.

He said 10.5 million trips were made by Chinese tourists to Thailand in 2018, up 7.4 percent from 2017 and bringing in $18 billion of tourist income.

Strategic transition

China has worked to steer away from the old growth driver of export-oriented manufacturing toward trade in services.

The Ministry of Commerce announced at the opening of CIFTIS on Tuesday that China’s service trade rose 2.6 percent to 1.29 trillion yuan (about $191 billion) in the first quarter of 2019, after seeing robust growth of 11.5 percent to 5.24 trillion yuan in 2018, a historic high and ranking second in the world for five consecutive years. The share taken up by service trade in the country’s total foreign trade has reached 15.6 percent.

In 2018, China’s service exports in transport, insurance, intellectual property royalties and other business service sectors all posted double-digit growth, with exports of computer and information technology soaring 69.5 percent year on year.

China has taken a slew of measures to open up the service sector and push forward services trade with its overseas partners. Its service trade with countries and regions along the Belt and Road (B&R) reached over $120 billion last year, according to the ministry.

Beijing is China’s pilot city for the expansion and opening-up of the service trade industry. In 2017, it saw the launch of China’s first foreign-controlled joint venture in aircraft maintenance, set up by Air France Industries KLM Engineering and Maintenance and Beijing General Aviation Co. Ltd.

In 2018, the added value of Beijing’s service trade accounted for 81 percent of the city’s GDP.

In March, the Bank of Beijing announced plans to join hands with global finance company ING Bank N.V. to invest 3 billion yuan in setting up a banking joint venture, in which ING Bank holds a 51 percent stake.

Speaking at CIFTIS, Norman Sze, Deloitte China Government Affairs lead partner and Northern Region managing partner, said China’s development of trade in services would bring huge opportunities to the world. Deloitte hopes to share its expertise with Chinese firms in the sector. (Global Times)

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