Sri Lanka, a South Asian developing country, is confronting challenges of economic vulnerability. A rising trend of trade protectionism with new hidden barriers and de-globalization in the global market are impeding the economic and investment sectors to promote global trade sustainably. In this context, China’s open door and cooperation policy offers a glimmer of hope for the region’s prosperity and development, resuming economic growth at a faster rate. In order to fulfill President Xi Jinping’s pledge to turn the Chinese market into a market for the world, a market shared by all, and a market accessible to all, China has taken a number of concrete steps in recent years, including an all-round opening-up strategy that allows foreign enterprises greater access to the domestic market and a foreign investment law that ensures a business-friendly environment.
At the same time, China has taken new steps to strengthen bilateral, multilateral, and regional cooperation by joining trade blocs such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), hosting a series of mega trade exhibitions and improving connectivity through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Of them, China Import and Export Exhibition (Canton Fair), China International Import Expo (CIIE), China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS), China-ASEAN expo, China-South Asia expo, Euro-Asia Economic Forum and Trade Cooperation Expo, Inter-textile Shanghai Apparel Fabrics, and China Yangling Agricultural High-tech Fair are all key exhibitions that will undoubtedly be of great significance to developing economies like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan. It is expected that participation’s in these forums would open new avenues of business opportunities and further enhance bilateral relations .
According to China Customs data, Sri Lanka’s goods export to China grew by 111.2 per cent year-on-year in the first three quarters of 2021. Despite the fact that bilateral trade favors China heavily, Sri Lanka has enormous potential that has yet to be realized. It is mentionable that China imported goods worth $2.4 trillion in the 2019-20 fiscal year. In the next ten years, China is expected to import a total of $22 trillion worth of goods. Hence, China’s Expo platform will provide a great opportunity for Bangladesh to explore the vast Chinese market and expand exports to bridge the bilateral trade gap and increase revenue.
Sri Lanka exports mostly textiles and garments (52% of total exports) and tea (17%). Others include: spices, gems, coconut products, rubber and fish. Though its Main export partners are United States, United Kingdom and Germany, China could be new investment destination. The expos are important ways to learn about Chinese consumer preferences and to tap into vast China market. Participating these expos countries can display and popularize its flagship products and diversify its export destination globally as a large number of buyers, entrepreneurs and companies from Europe, America, Australia, Southeast Asia, Middle East, and Africa attend there. For example, the China-ASEAN Expo (CAEXPO) could give Sri Lanka trilateral trade expansion opportunity to enter China and ASEAN market which has a combined population of 2 billion people and a GDP of $18.5 trillion.
Participating these expos Sri Lanka can also highlight the investment potential and create confidence in a large number of foreign investors in the Port City and Hambantota Industrial Zone.
In short, the expos offer a platform to understand Chinese people and Chinese market as well as to make new linkage with consumers, companies, experts and different technologies which could lead product specialization and export value added products to China, a market with 1.4 billion people and over 400 million middle-income people. In this regard, China can provide technical assistance in framing policy positions and export-development strategy to help Lankan products to reach the Chinese market.
Like Sri Lanka other South Asian countries, can also use the expos to promote their brands, build new trade image and expand their business opportunities in China and the worldwide market. Along with economic and commercial gains, such platforms would forge stronger cultural cooperation which will with further enhance the bilateral brotherly relations and promote win-win co-operation for common prosperity.
*Parvej Siddique Bhuiyan, is a development worker as well as a writer in International Policy, Daily Star, Dhaka Tribune and other international media outlets on development issues, bilateral relations and current international affairs.