Beijing: China’s much-touted import expo has opened in Shanghai without the presence of Indian businesses, significantly in a year when the Sino-India trade is poised to touch a record USD 100 billion.

The China International Import Expo (CIIE) was formally inaugurated by Chinese President Xi Jinping through a video link on Thursday.

Participants at the expo in the eastern metropolis said most of the firms and businesses from abroad were represented by their local agents in view of China’s rigid COVID-19 travel restrictions.

This year’s expo, which was started four years ago to address global complaints of China’s business model of export more and import less.

Officials say China’s current blanket ban on travel between the two countries citing COVID-19 protocols as the main reason for the lack of presence of Indian business houses.

Since last year, China has stopped issuing visas for Indians and currently, there are no flights in operation between the two countries due to which over 23,000 Indian students, mostly studying medicine in Chinese colleges as well as hundreds of Indian businessmen and their families, were stranded back home.

In the past, Indian trade and businesses had shown interest in the last three expos in Shanghai.

In 2019, an Indian delegation headed by Commerce Secretary, Anup Wadhawan participated in the inaugural function and held talks with the Chinese officials on addressing India’s concerns over the trade deficit.

Apart from the bilateral tensions over the continuing military standoff in eastern Ladakh that began in May last year, officials say the Indian businesses were apparently not enthused this year as they found it not lucrative in view of the difficulties in breaking into the Chinese markets.

Significantly, the expo was being held without India’s presence at a time when the bilateral trade appears to be on course to touch record USD 100 billion.

It crossed the USD 90 billion-mark in the first nine months of this year despite the chill in the bilateral ties in view of the continuing military standoff between the two countries.

The bilateral trade totalled to USD 90.37 billion by the end of September, which is an increase of 49.3 per cent year-on-year, according to the nine-month data released by China’s customs on Wednesday.

China’s exports to India went up to USD 68.46 billion up 51.7 per cent year on year, apparently aided also by massive imports of urgent supplies like oxygen concentrators when India was hit by a massive second wave of COVID-19

By the end of next month, the bilateral trade is expected to touch USD 100 billion.

A report in China’s state-run Global Times on Thursday quoted experts as saying that India’s absence at the expo contrasts with robust growth in China-India bilateral trade this year.

The number of Indian companies that attend the CIIE has been decreasing progressively in recent years and dropped to zero this year, the report said.

In his inaugural address, Xi said that China will firmly share market opportunities with the rest of the world and import more from neighbouring countries.

China has a population of over 1.4 billion and a middle-income group of more than 400 million people. Our annual import in goods and services is valued at around USD 2.5 trillion. All this offers an enormous market, he said.

Going forward, China will lay more emphasis on expanding imports, and pursue balanced development of trade. China will open more demonstration zones for creative promotion of import trade, optimise the catalogue of retail imports via cross-border e-commerce, encourage the on-site processing of imported goods from trading between border residents, and increase imports from neighbouring countries, he added.

Also read | Pandemic, politics drive Xi’s absence from global talks

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