Exhibitors from Iran's Free Trade Zones and Economic Special Zones in conversation with Chinese investors during the 23rd China International Fair for Investment and Trade (CIFIT) in Xiamen, Fujian Province, on September 8 (WEI YAO)
Xiamen, a coastal city in Fujian Province, southeast China, was hit by a typhoon in early September, but as sunshine arrived in town once again on September 8, so did the 23rd edition of the China International Fair for Investment and Trade (CIFIT).
As one of the most influential international investment events in the world, the CIFIT is an important platform for promoting investment, distributing related information and discussing investment trends. This year, the fair attracted the participation of 102 countries and regions, with Brazil, Serbia and Qatar as the guest countries of honor, and introduced a groundbreaking addition--the Global Cooperation Exhibition Zone.
The immense interest and excitement surrounding the fair were evident in the packed negotiation areas and conference rooms. Attendees from diverse backgrounds and industries seized the opportunity to engage in fruitful discussions, share ideas and seek innovative solutions to common challenges.
Vahid Talebpoor from Iran found himself bustling with conversation. As the investment representative of the Anzali Free Trade Zone in his home country’s Gilan Province, he presented several investment cooperation projects that highlighted Iran’s competitiveness. Talebpoor aims to explore more business opportunities and cooperation with Chinese companies through this international platform. “Iran has introduced a visa-free policy for Chinese tourists and welcomes more Chinese companies to invest in Iran,” he told Beijing Review.
New faces, old friends
Iran received a lot of attention at this year’s CIFIT, which probably had something to do with the recent expansion of BRICS, an acronym for the major emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
This historic expansion, announced during the 15th BRICS Summit in late August in Johannesburg, South Africa, includes Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and their membership will take effect on January 1, 2024. The BRICS grouping will thus more than double its current membership.
The global landscape is fundamentally changing with the rise of emerging economies, represented by the BRICS countries. Indeed, organizations of developing countries, such as the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), are playing a crucial role in promoting a more equal and mutually beneficial international environment based on the foundational principles of multilateralism including solidarity, consultation and inclusion, Hojatollah Abdolmaleki, Advisor to the President and Secretary of Iran’s Supreme Council of Free Trade-Industrial and Special Economic Zones, said. The SCO is a eurasian political, economic and security organization that groups China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Abdolmaleki, led a delegation to the CIFIT with a focus on promoting the investment environment of Iran’s free trade and special economic zones. The goal of his trip was not only to promote two-way investment and to look for potential business partners but also to take back with him to Iran the valuable experience of China in facilitating trade and investment.
"Oil and gas cooperation has always been a priority between China and Iran,” Abdolmaleki told Beijing Review. He added that Iran's focus at this year’s expo was on showcasing its 15 free trade zones and several investment projects. “Our goal is to find opportunities for investment and cooperation,” he said. “To facilitate better investment in Iran, we will provide additional policy supports in areas such as land use and taxation.”
According to China’s Ministry of Commerce, the total trade volume between China and Iran reached $15.8 billion in 2022, a year-on-year growth of 7 percent. China has been Iran's largest trading partner for the past 10 years.
Saudi Arabia, too, proved popular at the 23rd CIFIT.
"No need for translation, I graduated from Xiamen University!" Thanks to his fluent standard Chinese, Saleh Ali Khabti, Saudi Arabia's Vice Minister of Investment, was a media star at the fair.
Khabti first visited China in 1998 and is well-versed in Chinese economic affairs. Throughout history, Saudi Arabia and China have had close ties, which have continued to this day, especially with the development of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to boost connectivity along and beyond ancient Silk Road routes, he pointed out. This year marks the initiative’s 10th anniversary and Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to actively respond to its call for cooperation. “The purpose of this (CIFIT) visit is to expand and deepen our relationship through increased trade and investment,” Khabti said.
From physical to digital infrastructure, and from aerospace and automotive to other industrial sectors, “China’s history teaches us many lessons and gives us many blueprints to follow,” he told Beijing Review. “The options are infinite.”
Infinite possibilities bring infinite development. “What China is doing is sharing its wealth with everyone, to create peace, to create harmony, to create development,” Afif Barhoumi, investment promotion expert at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization Investment and Technology Promotion Office in Bahrain, told Beijing Review during the fair.
The recent visit marked Barhoumi’s 11th trip to China, and he has visited many countries in sub-Saharan Africa before. He said one thing that impressed him was that often when he walked by buildings in those African countries and asked what they were exactly, locals would reply, “This was made by China. This hospital, this school, this airport, this sea area, all were developed by China.”
“If China helps [other developing] countries economically and provides them with technology, the [development] level of these countries will go up, and there will be jobs and peace,” Barhoumi added.
Power of potential
"A mixture of hope and fear" is how Zhan Xiaoning, Chief Advisor to Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and Director of the organization’s Investment and Enterprise Division, described the global investment outlook at the Gulangyu Forum taking place during the 23rd CIFIT on September 8. He predicted that global foreign direct investment will remain low this year, but he expects it to pick up early next year.
FDI matters because it is a method of business expansion. It involves, among other things, international mergers and acquisitions as well as the development of new infrastructure outside of geographical boundaries.
UNCTAD’s World Investment Report 2023, released during the fair, showed that global FDI flows fell 12 percent in 2022. The decline was mainly felt in developed economies, where FDI fell by a whopping 37 percent.
China will continue to offer the world’s largest investment opportunities for a long time due to its digital transformation and intensified efforts to promote high-standard opening up, Liu Qiao, dean of the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University, said.
The potential rewards often outweigh the difficulties, despite divergent value systems and occasional challenges. “It is difficult for foreign companies to leave the Chinese market because of its immense potential,” Liu concluded.
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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