The China International Import Expo (CIIE) has been a chance to showcase “the best of what the United Kingdom has to offer,” Britain’s Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox said Tuesday, while calling for reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and speaking out against protectionism.
Speaking at a launch event for the UK Pavilion at the CIIE, Fox was keen to stress the importance of the theme of innovation, saying it was what “defines the UK, what excites the UK, and what unites us in our drive for a future partnership with China.”
The UK is one of 12 guest of honor countries at the CIIE, with Chinese President Xi Jinping visiting the country’s pavilion on Monday, accompanied by Fox and Prince Andrew, Duke of York.
Speaking at a press conference later on Tuesday, Fox said “we’re very impressed by the expo,” explaining that the UK had committed to the CIIE early on because the concept of an import-oriented expo was important.
Fox said that the UK “welcomes China’s ongoing efforts to open up, increasing imports across both goods and services and improving the business environment.”
The UK encourages China to further deepen its opening up efforts, with Fox calling for “a clear timeline for liberalization.”
While praising the trade relationship between Beijing and London, Fox said that there was still room for growth in cooperation on services. Only 18 percent of the UK’s exports to China are services, according to Fox, with the financial services sector a particular area that could be developed.
“It is obvious that the United Kingdom will be a key financial services trade partner with China, as the UK is the world’s second largest financial center and London is the global financial capital,” said Fox.
Fox strongly rejected the idea of Brexit making the UK a more isolated country, describing it as “a very open market” which has long championed free trade.
The UK minister praised China’s 40 years of reform and opening up, particularly the way that it has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.
Speaking out against protectionism, Fox cited OECD data that shows non-tariff barriers to trade applied by G20 countries grew almost four-fold between 2010 and 2015.
“I think that there’s not only an economic case, but also a moral case, that those of us who have most benefited from free and open trade should want to ensure that those benefits are available not just to the next generation in our own countries, but globally too.”
While Fox spoke out in support of a rules-based trading system under the WTO, he also said that the trade body needs to be reformed. “It is in everybody’s interests that if we feel the rules-based system isn’t working well, we improve it rather than abandon it.”