context: ‘Dual circulations’ outlined the state’s attitude to decoupling and the 14th 5-year plan has predictably focused on that, by prioritising domestic innovation and spending, the latter by boosting low-income groups. For trade, this means exports and imports are welcome and FDI in hitech fields will be encouraged.

While the domestic economy was the major focus of Two Sessions, trade was discussed in interviews with MofCOM (MInistry of Commerce) officials, and the draft 14th 5-year plan noted

  • expanding opening-up
  • relying on the advantages of the large-scale market
  • promoting international cooperation
  • achieving win-win results
  • promoting BRI

Discussing specifics of the agenda for 2021 Wang Wentao 王文涛 MofCOM minister noted

  • advancing negotiations on the China–Japan–Korea Free Trade Agreement
  • consider joining CPTPP
    • some preliminary work done including making informal contacts
    • building a network of free trade zones
    • expanding courses to help firms and local governments understand RCEP

Wei Jianguo 魏建国 former MofCOM vice-minister added

  • free trade zone pilots previously focused on traditional areas such as trade and investment
    • moving forward, the priority is
      • increasing zero-tariff ratio
      • relaxing services market access
      • cross-border e-commerce
      • environmental protection
      • intellectual property rights
      • government procurement
  • China is looking at trade negotiations with
    • Gulf Coast Council
    • Israel
    • Norway
  • rearranging industrial chains is not a negative, as long as China remains the ‘main gear’; for example some textile and apparel manufacturing industries may shift to ASEAN, but China can focus more on apparel design and high-end fabric production

However, not everyone is so encouraging of more opening. Gao Rongkun 高融昆 Shanghai Customs commissioner highlighted more opening means there are increased concerns around foreign financial, data, and health risks. He advocates multifaceted monitoring to include port security and cyberspace.