An Exceptional Expo: Shifting Trade Winds After CIIE

By Joshua Cawthorpe, December 11, 2023

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The 6th China International Import Expo (CIIE) achieved remarkable success, with deal values reaching a record USD78.4 billion, showcasing China's growing appetite for imported goods and services. The event, held yearly from November 5 to 10, featured 3,400 exhibitors and almost 400,000 accredited visitors, thus highlighting the continued attractiveness of the Chinese market for global economic growth. With data showing both import and export growth overall in 2023, trends China's domestic consumption are a hopeful marker of what is to come. Despite being the world's most prolific exporter of manufactured goods, China imports goods to the tune of almost USD2 trillion.

Top-down-view.jpegThe CIIE is held at the National Exhibition and Convention Center in Shanghai which is shaped like a four-leaf clover. Image via @ciieonline/X(formerly Twitter)

The CIIE serves as a major platform for showcasing foreign products and innovations to Chinese buyers. The 2023 CIIE attracted a record number of exhibitors, including 289 Global Fortune 500 companies, and deals worth USD1.38 billion were closed in the first two days.

VR.jpegHigh-tech products take center stage at the 6th CIIE. Image via @ciieonline/X(formerly Twitter)

Maximillian Postigo, a veteran of the China International Import Expo (CIIE), shared valuable insights on how to effectively prepare for the event. He emphasized the importance of meticulous planning for a successful CIIE experience, stating, "You need to plan your visit to CIIE." Postigo underlined the need for advance preparation, cautioning against expecting to strike substantial deals on the spot. He even pointed out that attendees can request a one-day tourist pass, but added that such passes may not suffice for substantial business transactions.

Maxi-Sign-v.jpg
Image via Maxi Postigo

In his own words, Postigo stressed the complexity of CIIE, which is one of the world's largest fairs, showcasing a wide array of products and services, from the latest automobiles to advanced technology and banking services. To our surprise, Postigo tells us that ICBC had a strong presence at the Argentina pavilion because, outside of China, Argentina is home to the most branches of the Chinese bank.

Bayer-CFO.jpegBayer CFO Ulrich Stefer poses in front of the expansive Bayer area of the fair.Image via @ciieonline/X(formerly Twitter)

He shared his personal experience of exploring the buyer stands and gaining insights into various businesses, including the diverse lines of a company like Bayer, whose presence Postigo found very striking this year. According to Postigo, "You have everything. You can find the latest BMW. You can find the latest Chinese electric car from BYD, and also you can find the banking booths with services from all the big international players."

Mercedes.jpegImage via @ciieonline/X(formerly Twitter)

While acknowledging that deals indeed happen at CIIE, he cautions against getting lost or easily distracted in the vast and diverse pavilions.

Postigo's advice centered on meticulous planning, setting clear objectives, and identifying key contacts for CIIE. "I strongly recommend planning your visit. What do you want to achieve in CIIE? Secondly, who do you want to see? And if you want deals, definitely you need to start preparing today for CIIE 2024."

Robot.jpegImage via @ciieonline/X(formerly Twitter)

In contrast, Postigo lamented that this year his plans foreclosed on the opportunity to simply wander the pavilions and let the captivating products emerge naturally. Having time to wander can lead to unexpected discoveries and opportunities that may not have been anticipated during the planning phase. This balance between planning and exploration, according to Postigo, can make the most of the CIIE experience. 

"When you wander through an area that might not be a theme you're initially interested in, you might find something that makes you say, 'Oh my God. This can help me with another project.'"

Uganda.jpeg
10 years since its inception, the Belt and Road Initiative was a focal point of this year's CIIE. While Uganda has been a BRI country for many years, some countries have joined more recently. Mali, which joined in 2019, made its CIIE debut this year.  from mage via @ciieonline/X(formerly Twitter)

One element of this year's CIIE that stood out to Postigo was the agriculture pavilions, especially when it comes to the integration of smart technology. “I'm becoming more involved in this area, and I anticipate further engagement in 2024. There's cutting-edge technology for tracking food safety using blockchain-based systems. It enables monitoring the entire journey of a product from the moment it's planted as a seed or undergoes any process. This company provides software that allows you to trace the entire supply chain through blockchain technology and a dedicated app, essentially a complete tracking system. For instance, products like milk and dairy, where maintaining the cold chain is crucial, can be monitored for temperature with sensors, from the moment the milk leaves the cow until it reaches your table. This represents the future of food safety.”

Skeleton.jpegImage via @ciieonline/X(formerly Twitter)

Postigo's advice underscores the significance of thorough preparation and strategic planning for CIIE, while also acknowledging the serendipitous benefits of exploring the event. His insights serve as valuable guidance for individuals and businesses looking to maximize their participation in the CIIE.

Silver Bullet Points

ESG, which stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance, has become a significant focus in international business and trade. It represents a set of criteria and standards that companies and organizations use to evaluate their performance and impact on various aspects of society and the environment. ESG factors encompass a wide range of issues, including sustainability, ethical practices, diversity and inclusion, human rights, and corporate governance.

The 2023 China International Import Expo (CIIE) held in Shanghai served as a platform where ESG principles played a prominent role. Maxi Postigo, who participated in the event, highlighted the growing importance of ESG in China's business landscape. He mentioned that ESG is a hot topic in China, reflecting the country's commitment to responsible and sustainable business practices. In particular, the emphasis on environmental considerations, social responsibility, and good governance has become crucial for companies operating in China.

ESG-Geely.jpegGeely Holding Group was awarded a Top Ten award at an ESG business banquet hosted by CCTV. Image via @吉利控股集团 /Weibo

"In recent international transactions involving China, the RMB has, for the first time, surpassed the US dollar in terms of significance, highlighting the increasing importance of the RMB in future global trade. We often refer to the historic significance of the 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement, which marked the shift from the gold standard to the use of the US dollar in global trade financing. Now, we are witnessing the rising prominence of the RMB, particularly the digital e-RMB, which holds significant potential for applications like smart contracts and global banking operations. It's worth noting that the e-RMB differs significantly from other payment methods and should not be confused with cryptocurrencies."

Attachment-472545-722730817.977751-.jpgImage via Maxi Postigo

Postigo emphasized that in today's international trade landscape, compliance with ESG standards is paramount. "Compliance, compliance, compliance; it's the element to focus on moving forward. Remember in the old times when people talk about real estate, they always said to the big developers, what is the most important thing in real estate? And the big developers said, location, location, location." Compliance ensures that businesses adhere to regulations and ethical standards, covering areas such as Know Your Customer (KYC) procedures. Without proper compliance, conducting deals and transactions in international trade becomes challenging and risky.

The World's a Stage

Flags.jpegA total of 154 countries, regions and international organizations participated in the 2023 CIIE.Image via @ciieonline/X(formerly Twitter)

This year, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese led a delegation of over 250 Australian firms to the China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai. His attendance marked a significant development in China-Australia relations, which had been strained due to a trade dispute that appears to be winding down. Albanese expressed his commitment to improving relations with China and he emphasized the importance of constructive economic engagement.

Albanese.jpegAustralian PM Anthony Albanese enjoying some Australian beef at the 2023 CIIE. Image via @AlboPM/X(formely Twitter)

"The Asia Pacific region's development and Australia's relationship with China are key components of our future," said Albanese in a speech at the expo. The Australian PM characterized the relationship between Beijing and Canberra as mature and driven by the complementarity of their economies.

Carts.jpegImage via @ciieonline/X(formerly Twitter)

During his visit to the CIIE, Albanese had planned to engage in discussions with Chinese leaders about bilateral and international issues of common concern, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry echoing the need for harmonious cooperation.

Albanese's visit also included a meeting with President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

Xi then headed to the US for what appears to be a rapid thawing of dialogue between the world's two largest economies.

Xi-Biden-Meet-California.jpgChinese President Xi Jinping met US President Joe Biden in California on November 15. Image via @快看沙雅/Weibo

The meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco had significant implications for trade and economic relations between the United States and China. Here's a summary of key points related to economics from their meeting:

• Counternarcotics Cooperation: Both leaders welcomed the resumption of bilateral cooperation to combat global illicit drug manufacturing and trafficking. This cooperation has implications for trade and border controls.

• Resumption of Military Dialogues: High-level military-to-military communication, U.S.-China Defense Policy Coordination Talks, and U.S.-China Military Maritime Consultative Agreement meetings are being resumed. These dialogues address security concerns that can impact trade and economic stability.

• Advanced AI Systems and Safety: The need to address the risks of advanced AI systems and improve AI safety through U.S.-China government talks was affirmed. AI plays a crucial role in various industries, including technology and finance.

• Increased Passenger Flights and Exchanges: Both leaders committed to working toward an increase in scheduled passenger flights between the two countries and encouraged various exchanges, including educational, cultural, and business exchanges. Enhanced connectivity supports economic ties.

• Addressing Transnational Challenges: The leaders emphasized the importance of addressing transnational challenges such as health security, debt, and climate finance. These issues impact global economic stability.

• Maintaining Open Communication: Both leaders acknowledged the importance of responsibly managing the competitive aspects of the relationship, maintaining open lines of communication, and continuing discussions on various key areas, including commercial and economic matters. Open communication is essential for economic cooperation.

• High-Level Diplomacy and Interactions: The two leaders agreed that their teams would follow up on their discussions with continued high-level diplomacy and interactions, including visits and ongoing consultations in key areas. This indicates a commitment to further dialogue on economic and trade-related matters.

Branding Across the Board

Knowing that Postigo has been importing wine to China for many years, we ask him how he feels about Australia's return to the market. He noted that, "in recent years, due to various factors, Australia was somewhat sidelined in terms of exports to China. This provided an opportunity for some smaller Argentinian producers to enter the Chinese market, especially in niche product categories within commodities and agriculture."

READ MORE: China's Taste for Wine: An Interview With Maxi Postigo

Postigo further highlighted the significance of branding during a dinner conversation with commodity producers. He recounted an example involving wine to emphasize the importance of branding.

Wine.jpgImage via Maxi Postigo

"I bought two bottles of wine—one from Australia and the other from Argentina, both bearing the same label. The wine is a well-known Australian brand but one of the bottles was produced in Salta, in northern Argentina. I pointed out that in times of changing tariffs and tax situations, the company had a plan B in place. They utilized the same brand to market their product in different regions, but the product itself needed to be adapted for compliance."

This example had been tactfully used in an evening discussion during the CIIE with some representatives of major Argentinian agricultural commodities. Postigo advised them to leverage their country's strong relationship with China and use branding effectively.

Regarding pricing and international trade, Postigo adds, "Major commodity producers sell to massive global trading coprorations, leaving them with little negotiation power. The price becomes their primary concern. Argentina, for instance, produces enough food to feed over 400 million people, yet our population is just 45 million. If price becomes the sole focus, we'll struggle to compete. It's a significant challenge, but this perspective isn't limited to Argentina; it extends to Brazil, smaller Latin American countries like Costa Rica, and even Panama."

Tyson-CIIE-.jpg
Tyson is primarily a meat processing and dsitribution company which was founded in 1935. It currently makes about 20% of all the meat sold in the US. More recently, Tyson has been expanding into China, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, South Korea, Netherlands, and Brazil. Image via Maxi Postigo

"I'm currently working on a deal to export chicken feet from Panama to China,” he adds enthusiastically. "Panama recently received approval for some of its processing plants to export chicken. Chicken feet are in high demand in China, making it a very valuable commodity."

Postigo reiterates that international trade isn't easy; it requires time, effort, and trustworthy partners. "I often emphasize the importance of being 'legit.' This term has gained popularity, particularly among Generation Z, and it signifies being genuine, trustworthy, and credible. 'Legit' is a fantastic term, and it resonates well in business discussions. It's about building trust and credibility in the marketplace."


In addition to import and corporate finance businesses, Maxi Postigo is the

commercial director of the association of Argentinians in China.

Scan the QR code for information about Postigo's WeWine networking events in Shanghai.

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[Cover image via That's]

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