Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. China has entered a stage of high-quality development and is building a new development paradigm. The development of commerce plays a very important role in the building of this paradigm. Today, we are honored to be joined by Mr. Wang Wentao, minister of commerce; Mr. Wang Shouwen, vice minister of commerce and deputy China international trade representative; and Mr. Qian Keming, vice minister of commerce. They will explain related issues and answer your questions.
Now, let's give the floor to Minister Wang Wentao.
Thank you, Mr. Chen. Friends from the media, good afternoon. It's a great pleasure to meet with you. On behalf of the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), I would like to express my sincere thanks to friends from the media who have shown interest and supported us in the development of commerce.
The year 2020 was marked by a severe and complex international situation, and especially the coronavirus outbreak. Under the strong leadership of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, the MOFCOM coordinated COVID-19 responses with economic and social development, and took solid steps to ensure stability on the six fronts (employment, finance, foreign trade, foreign investment, domestic investment, and market expectations) and security in the six areas (jobs, daily living needs, food and energy, industrial and supply chains, the interests of market players, and the smooth functioning of grassroots government).
We have stabilized the overall performance of foreign trade and foreign investment, promoted the recovery of consumption, made new breakthroughs in multilateral and bilateral economic and trade relationships, and steadily developed commerce, which performed better than expected. These efforts have contributed to social and economic development in China.
This year, the MOFCOM will continue to follow the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, accurately understand the new development stage, act on the new development philosophy, and accelerate the establishment of the new development paradigm. We will strive to achieve the high-quality development of commerce and make a good start on the new journey to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC with great achievements.
My colleagues, Vice Minister Wang Shouwen and Vice Minister Qian Keming, as well as myself, will now answer your questions.
Now the floor is open to questions. Please state the name of your news outlet before asking your question. Thank you.
Affected by a multiple factors including the coronavirus, there have been mixed views about China's foreign trade this year. What predictions do you have regarding China's imports and exports this year? What new policies and measures will the MOFCOM introduce to help foreign-trade companies stabilize industrial and supply chains? Thank you.
Thank you. Your questions are about China's foreign trade outlook this year and what measures we are taking to maintain stability. First, let's quickly review its performance in 2020. Last year, General Secretary Xi Jinping made important instructions on stabilizing the overall performance of foreign trade and foreign investment, and the State Council adopted a series of policies and measures in this regard. All relevant departments and local governments made concerted efforts. Foreign-trade companies met the challenges head-on and worked hard. Generally, remarkable progress was achieved in China's foreign trade last year. The combined value of imports and exports for 2020 reached 32.2 trillion yuan, an increase of 1.9% year on year. These figures reveal three points: first, China was the only major economy that registered positive growth in foreign trade; second, China's foreign trade volume and international market share hit record highs; and third, the country maintained its position as the world's largest trading nation in goods.
The situation in relation to China's foreign trade will remain severe and complex this year. Demand hangs in the balance amid uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Factors affecting the stability of industrial and supply chains are also still appearing. We will take firm measures to maintain stability in the overall performance of foreign trade and foreign investment. Efforts will be focused on plans to optimize imports and exports, integrate foreign trade industries, and promote unimpeded trade. More specifically, we will pay attention to the following aspects:
First, we will continue to strengthen policy support. We will collaborate with local governments and relevant departments to maintain the continuity, stability and sustainability of our policies. We will solicit opinions from foreign-trade companies on a regular basis and help solve their problems. For example, we are working to facilitate international logistics, lower logistics costs, improve export credit insurance, ensure the reasonable release of foreign trade loans, and support companies in stabilizing and expanding employment. We are also making timely adjustments as conditions change, all while maintaining the continuity and stability of policies.
Second, we will ensure the stability and unimpeded flow of industrial and supply chains in foreign trade. More efforts will be made to push forward industry convergence in trade sector. We will identify a batch of new foreign trade bases for transformation and upgrading, and foster a group of processing trade industrial parks. We will also establish a batch of national import trade innovation-oriented demonstration zones to expand the scale of imports and boost the quality and efficiency of related industries.
Third, we will help foreign trade enterprises to secure orders and expand the market, focusing on giving further play to the role of various platforms. We have several good platforms, and we will continue to make good use of them this year. We will hold the Fourth China International Import Expo (CIIE) and China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) 2021. We will also make full use of important exhibition platforms such as the Canton Fair and the first China International Consumer Goods Fair (CICGF) to stabilize orders and expand the market for enterprises. Meanwhile, depending on the pandemic situation, exhibitions and fairs will adopt both online and in-person. We will advance development of the international marketing system, especially upgrading overseas warehouses, to promote the integration of domestic and foreign trade. We will also negotiate with more trading partners, especially Belt and Road countries, to set up a working mechanism for the unimpeded flow of trade, and create a favorable international environment for foreign trade enterprises.
Fourth, we will take the initiative to foster new forms and models of foreign trade. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, new forms and models of foreign trade have played an important role, such as cross-border e-commerce and market purchase trade. In 2020, the trade volume of China's cross-border e-commerce reached 1.69 trillion yuan, up 31.1% year on year, while the export through market purchases reached 704.54 billion yuan, up 25.2% year on year. Both of these double-digit growth rates indicate that the new forms and models have strong vitality. Next, we will give them more support, and contribute to stabilizing foreign trade this year. Thank you for your questions.
The fifth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee proposed that the modern circulation system be improved during the 14th Five-Year Plan period to reduce enterprises' circulation costs. This was reiterated at the recent meeting of the Central Committee for deepening overall reform. What are MOFCOM's considerations regarding specific implementation measures? How can we develop a modern trade circulation system? Thank you.
As we all know, circulation connects production and consumption. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, commercial and trade circulation have developed rapidly in China, and an open and competitive pattern with diverse actors and models has basically taken shape. However, there are also some shortcomings in circulation. For example, China's national logistics costs as a percentage of GDP in 2020, often viewed and compared internationally, stood at around 14.7%, roughly 6 percentage points higher than that of developed countries. The cost of logistics in China is relatively high. Another indicator is cold chain logistics, which is China's weakest point. The loss rate of agricultural products during transport in developed countries is less than 10%, while in China it is about 12%, with fruit and vegetables even higher, registering around 18% — although some studies suggest it is over 20%. This indicates that we still have many shortcomings in terms of logistics and China's circulation companies are less competitive internationally.
General Secretary Xi Jinping has stressed that an efficient modern circulation system is essential for both domestic and international circulations. MOFCOM's considerations mainly focus on making improvements in six areas with a problem-oriented approach to develop a modern circulation system.
First, we will improve the circulation network layout. If the circulation network is compared to the human cardiovascular system, the backbone network is just like the main arteries. So, we must first develop a sound backbone network before ensuring the smooth flow of basic network, and open up the "capillaries" to have a sound network system. As such, we need to focus our efforts on the backbone network by making a proper plan for commodity distribution centers, comprehensive logistics parks and public distribution centers among others. With a sound backbone network, we will then be able to ensure the last-mile "capillaries" of the network.
Second, we will improve the circulation infrastructure, which is still left behind when compared with developed countries. At present, the main shortcoming is the "last mile." Just now I talked about the establishment of a "backbone" network. Next, we need to open up the "capillaries," especially with regards to the last mile. The important thing is that the work should reach down to all levels. How can this be done in urban areas? We should ensure residents have access to convenience stores, vegetable markets and community centers, that is, we should focus on making them available within 15-minutes of people's homes. How can it be done in the countryside? In rural areas, we should focus on improving the commercial system, transforming the three-level commercial and trade circulation network of counties, townships and villages, improving the logistics distribution network, and unblocking the flow of industrial products to the countryside and agricultural products to cities. We have set a goal that by 2025, every county should have chain stores and logistics distribution centers, every town should have business centers, and every village should have express delivery. We should focus on reaching all levels in urban and rural areas to solve the last mile problem.
Third, we will enhance the competitiveness of the main circulation. As I said, compared with developed countries and large international circulation enterprises, our circulation enterprises still have many shortcomings. Now, however, new technology applications such as 5G, the Internet of Things, big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence, have given circulation enterprises a good opportunity to catch up quickly. We are encouraging and guiding circulation enterprises to seize this opportunity and make great strides in digital, network and smart technologies to improve circulation.
Fourth, we will improve the circulation development model. There are shopping malls, supermarkets and retail outlets all over urban and rural areas. We should encourage and guide innovation and transformation. Innovation and transformation are based on digitization, intelligent transformation and cross-border integration. In some grassroots areas, retail outlets are not only outlets for consumption, but also logistics end-points. They have already started cross-border integration, selling things, receiving goods and sending express mail. At the same time, we should also develop green circulation.
Fifth, we should improve the level of supply chain modernization. We will focus on the creation of supply chain innovation and application demonstration, and promote the deep integration of circulation innovation and industrial change.
Sixth, we should enhance the integration of domestic and foreign trade. We will break through the blockage points in domestic and foreign trade circulation, and build a smooth channel for domestic and international markets. The key is to promote the connection of domestic and foreign trade in laws and regulations, regulatory systems, quality standards, certification and other aspects. At present, they are not connected closely enough, and the flow of domestic and foreign trade is not smooth enough. Investigations show that only about 10% of domestic and foreign trade can be connected in some places. Going forward, we need to expand the convergence of laws and regulations, regulatory systems, quality standards, certification and accreditation. We have long been promoting this work. This year, we will increase efforts to enhance the degree of integration of domestic and foreign trade.
Together, these six aspects form the answer to your question. Thank you.
How does the MOFCOM see the next phase of China-U.S. economic and trade relations? The international community is paying much attention to the communication between China and the United States, and especially wonders if the two countries can re-establish the bilateral economic and trade dialogue mechanism. What's your position on this? Thank you.
This is a question that attracts wide attention. On Feb.11, President Xi and U.S. President Biden held a phone call, exchanged ideas on China-U.S. relations and pointed out the direction of the future development of the bilateral economic and trade relationship. China upholds that the nature of China-U.S. economic and trade relation is mutual benefit and win-win results. The interests of the two sides are deeply integrated. The two countries stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation. Cooperation is the only correct choice. Despite the global trade slump due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, China-U.S. trade has bucked the trend. China is the largest trading partner of the United States. Cooperation of trade and investment of the two sides has contributed to their economic recovery. This has proven that economic and trade cooperation drives the development of China-U.S. relationship, and has brought real benefits to both sides.
In his call with President Biden, President Xi stressed that China and the U.S. should re-establish the various dialogue mechanisms, read each other's policy intentions accurately, and avoid misunderstanding and miscalculation. China is willing to deepen bilateral exchanges in economic and trade, and cooperate on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit. This serves the interests of the people in both countries and benefits the whole world. In the next stage, I look forward to joint efforts with our colleagues in the United States. By following the spirit of the phone call between the presidents of the two countries, we would like to step up communication, enhance understanding, focus on cooperation and manage differences in order to take bilateral economic and trade relations back on the track of cooperation. Thank you.
Market News International:
China has expressed that it's readily considering joining the CPTPP after the signing of the RCEP. What's the role of your ministry in this regard? Is there any relevant timetable? What are the challenges to China's economic development if China joins the CPTPP, such as labor and environmental standards and intellectual property protection? Thank you.
Thank you for your question. On Nov. 20 of 2020 at the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, President Xi said that China would favorably consider joining the CPTPP. In December last year, the Central Economic Work Conference proposed again that China would actively consider CPTPP membership. As you know, the CPTPP covers a wide range of content, and we are doing our work in two aspects. The first is that we are conducting assessments, research and deep analyses of all CPTPP clauses including those you mentioned. Second, we have made informal contacts with some of the 11 members of the CPTPP. We also plan to engage with the rest of the members as well to talk at the technical level on issues involved, so we can have a more accurate understanding regarding the content of relevant agreements. Thank you.
I have a question about the WTO reform. We know that this year marks the 20th anniversary of China joining the WTO, but currently the WTO is facing a lot of difficulties and challenges. What will China do to advance WTO reform? Thank you.
Thank you for the question from Phoenix TV. This year marks the 20th anniversary of China joining the WTO. In the past two decades, China has fully complied with its obligations as a WTO member. We have opened our market, fulfilled our commitments, and actively participated in and contributed to some WTO negotiations, including negotiations on Trade Facilitation Agreement, on the expansion of the Information Technology Agreement, and about agricultural subsidies. China has actively reported to the WTO regarding its reforms and policy changes. Our trade policies have been reviewed by the WTO seven times and we are going to undergo the eighth. We have specially established a China Program, helping the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) integrate into the WTO mechanisms along with the efforts of the WTO Secretariat.
After the paralysis of the Appellate Body of the WTO dispute settlement mechanism, China, together with other members such as the E.U., worked to establish the Multiparty Interim Appeal-Arbitration Arrangement. In this way, China as a member of WTO has made its own contribution to strengthening the authority and effectiveness of the WTO. As you have just mentioned, the WTO has encountered some difficulties, such as the challenges posed by unilateralism and trade protectionism, the paralysis of the Appellate Body and tough WTO negotiations. It needs to change in such a situation and China supports necessary reforms. In this regard, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was officially appointed as the new director-general of the global trade body on Feb. 15. China will actively support Okonjo-Iweala, and hopes the WTO, under her leadership, will resume its normal functions as soon as possible. For example, we hope the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference could be successfully held this year and an agreement on fisheries subsidies could be reached.
With regard to WTO reform, China has released its position paper and submitted a proposal to the WTO Secretariat. In our view, the first thing on the agenda is to restore the normal operation of the Appellate Body. If it is functioning normally, we can effectively fight against unilateralism and trade protectionism. In addition, we believe the WTO needs to properly reform some excessive agricultural subsidies, especially in regard to some developed countries, where subsidies in agriculture can be huge. The issue of public food security and reserves is also an issue about which the developing countries are concerned, which we believe should be a priority for WTO reform.
In addition, as we all know the WTO already has a history of 25 years. During this time , the world economy, international trade and cross-border investment have undergone huge changes. For example, we are trading much more in services than 25 years ago, and cross-border investment has also greatly expanded. E-commerce was still in its infancy at that time, but today it is thriving. We also hope that the WTO can keep pace with the times and consensus can be reached on domestic regulation in trade in services, investment facilitation and e-commerce.
Not long ago, the Davos Agenda was held by the World Economic Forum and President Xi Jinping delivered a special address in which he said that we should build an open world economy, uphold the multilateral trading regime; we should advance WTO reform and protect the interests and opportunities of developing countries. China is now at a new stage of development and accelerating the building of a new development paradigm. In this process, we will further open up to the outside world and are also willing to work with other WTO members to continue to support the strengthening of the WTO's authority and effectiveness, while at the same time, as the world's largest developing country, we are also willing to make more contributions and fulfil our obligations commensurate with our capabilities, based on the principle of balancing rights and duties. Thank you.
I would like to ask what special policies will be issued for the e-commerce sector in order to speed up the high-quality development of commerce? Thank you.
Thank you for your question. E-commerce has been developing very fast over the past few years. Along with a new round of technological revolution and industrial change, China has been at the forefront of e-commerce development in the world, and it has profoundly reshaped people's production and way of life, especially since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, under which we have all felt the changes. Online shopping has become an important consumption channel for people. Last year, online retail sales of physical goods accounted for nearly a quarter of total social consumption. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, e-commerce has played a prominent role in helping fight it, securing supplies, resuming work and production and promoting replenishment of consumption. It has become a stabilizer of social and economic development. Not long ago, the MOFCOM, in conjunction with relevant departments, guided the launch of the "2021 Online Lunar New Year's Shopping Festival", which generated online retail sales of over 900 billion yuan nationwide and ensured market supply for people not travelling during the Spring Festival.
The MOFCOM, as the competent department of the e-commerce industry, always insists on developing and regulating the sector at the same time, and constantly optimizes the environment for the development of e-commerce. This year, we will focus on the following aspects.
First, we will improve top-level design. At present, we are pressing ahead with the devising of the 14th Five-Year Plan involving e-commerce development. Based on the new development stage, implementing the new development concept, and serving the building of the new development paradigm, we will put forward a series of targets, major tasks and supporting measures for the high-quality development of e-commerce in the 14th Five-Year Plan period, so as to provide new momentum for the building of a modern socialist country in all aspects.
Second, to promote innovation-driven development. We will actively develop and accelerate new types of consumption via platforms such as livestreaming e-commerce and fresh food e-commerce. We will build platforms, such as "Brand and Quality Online Shopping Festivals," to upgrade consumption and enrich content for online consumption. We will promote the integration of online and offline consumption and support the digital transformation of brick-and-mortar businesses and guide e-commerce platforms to energize small and medium-sized companies. We will also deepen the development of e-commerce in rural areas. Mr. Wang just mentioned the building of business systems in rural areas. E-commerce is a major part of that. We will ensure that poverty alleviation and rural vitalization are well integrated and coordinate government and social resources. We will carry out campaigns to boost agriculture through e-commerce and develop new infrastructures to support the rollout of e-commerce in more rural areas and help farmers increase their income. We will also ramp up efforts to advance cross-border e-commerce and expand cross-border e-commerce retail import pilot programs, inviting more and more friends and partners to join Belt and Road cooperation. We will deepen exchange and collaboration with our Belt and Road partners concerning e-commerce and share the new opportunities of the digital age.
At the same time, we must also be aware that with the fast development of China's e-commerce platforms, unfair competition and suspected monopolistic practices, among other related problems, have already aroused wide public concern. The MOFCOM will strengthen the management of e-commerce development. On the one hand, we will guide the creation of a social creditability system, put in place a credit filing system for e-commerce companies, and promote self-discipline within the industry. On the other hand, we will enforce mandatory and binding rules We will improve the laws and regulations regarding e-commerce, and conduct supervision of each company's compliance to prevent the uncontrolled expansion of business. We will work in collaboration with relevant departments to maintain an environment characterized by fair market competition. Thanks.
I'd like to ask a question about how to ensure stable foreign investment. In 2020, utilized foreign investment in China went against the global trend and became the world's top destination for foreign direct investment (FDI). Data shows that China saw faster growth and utilization of FDI in January compared to 2020. Will this trend continue and how does the MOFCOM view this year's foreign investment? In addition, with the global vaccination campaign rolling out and many countries having unveiled their coronavirus relief packages, we can assume that there will be increased competition regarding the utilization of investment. What kind of measures will the MOFCOM take to ensure stable foreign investment? Thanks.
I will answer this question. Just like you said, last year, China's actually utilized non-financial foreign investment increased by 4.5%, becoming the world's top destination for FDI. This January, the growth is also impressive. But we believe ensuring stable foreign investment this year remains complicated and severe because of ongoing uncertainties. As you mentioned, these uncertainties are arising from the epidemic and economic recovery. On the other hand, competition for investment across the world is increasing. However, we also see some opportunities. For example, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has projected that we'll see a further 5-10% decrease in FDI in 2021 based on a global decrease of 42% last year. The situation is severe but also provides opportunities. We will act per the policy decisions and plans of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, and step up efforts to stabilize the total volume of FDI, optimize its structure, and improve the quality regarding FDI utilization. The concrete measures are as follows:
First, we will continue to open up, which is fundamental. General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out that China will open its door still wider to the world. As for the MOFCOM, we will continue to lower the entry threshold for FDI as well as implement the 2020 national negative list for foreign investment and the negative lists for foreign investment in pilot free trade zones and ports. We will also employ the new version of the Catalogue of Encouraged Foreign Investment Industries to create more opportunities for investment. The new version has 127 more items. Together we will share the benefits brought by China's reform and development.
Second, we will make the best use of platforms for opening up. The MOFCOM will step up efforts to build pilot free trade zones and ports and national economic development zones. These are the major platforms and means for attracting foreign investment. We will build high-quality pilot free trade zones and ports and improve the planning of free trade zones, implement the overall plan for building the Hainan Free Trade Port, and carry out policies that support the liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment. China now has 217 national economic development zones. We need to further expand opening-up, push forward the transformation and upgrading of economic development zones, and build new highlands for reform and opening up in a bid to better serve the new paradigm of development. We will also launch further comprehensive trials for opening up the service sector to guide these pilot areas to take bold steps in exploring new ground and methods that are best suited to local conditions.
Third, we will create a better business environment. We all know that with unremitting efforts, China has made a big jump in the World Bank's business environment ranking, reaching No. 31 in 2019. Under the leadership of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, we will further improve the business environment, better implement the Foreign Investment Law and its relevant regulations, enact, revise, and repeal supporting regulations as necessary, and advance reforms to streamline administration and delegate power, improve regulation, and upgrade services. We will well implement the rules on handling complaints from foreign-invested enterprises, intensify the protection of legitimate rights and interests of foreign businessmen, and continuously promote the marketization, legalization and internationalization of business environment. By doing so, foreign investors will get a better environment, better development and better rewards when doing business in China. Thank you.
International Business Daily:
China and the EU have substantively concluded the negotiations on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), so when will the agreement be signed? How do you see the future development of China-EU economic and trade relations? Thank you.
China-EU relations enjoy a solid foundation, close high-level exchanges, and fruitful economic and trade outcomes. Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping had 23 online meetings and phone calls with leaders of the EU and European countries. In February, President Xi chaired the Summit of China and Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) via video link. Last year, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang co-hosted the 22nd China-EU leaders' meeting via video link. High-level interactions between China and the EU have increased mutual trust, laid a sound foundation, and indicated the direction for further development of China-EU economic and trade relations.
China-EU economic and trade relations are very close, and showed great resilience and potential amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Bilateral trade volume rose by 4.9% to $649.5 billion, making China the EU's largest trading partner for the first time. The investment confidence of both sides remains undiminished. The EU's direct investment in China reached $5.7 billion, while China's direct investment in the EU reached $4.7 billion. Last year, China and the EU also signed a geographical indications agreement, which will take effect this year on March 1.
As you mentioned, the negotiations on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment concluded last year as scheduled. This is a landmark in China-EU economic and trade relations. The investment agreement is a high-level, balanced, mutually beneficial and win-win agreement, and provides many investment opportunities for enterprises of both sides. Creating a better business environment will be beneficial not only to China and the EU, but also to the recovery and growth of the world economy. At present, we are carrying out relevant work including text reviewing and translating, and striving to sign it as soon as possible based on established procedures.
I would like to emphasize again that China and the EU are partners rather than opponents; cooperation between the two sides is far greater than competition. We should expand common interests through cooperation, and solve problems during development. China is willing to strengthen cooperation with the EU in fighting COVID-19, promote pragmatic cooperation in the fields including economy and trade, , green development and digital economy, and maintain the stability of the global industrial chain and supply chain, so as to contribute to the recovery and growth of the global economy in the post-pandemic era. Thank you.
My question is about Australian trade. What has to happen for China to end the ban or the block on the importation of Australian coal, and for the removal of other impediments to exports from Australia to China? Thank you.
Thank you for your question. The economic and trade relationship between China and Australia, I should say, has a very good foundation. There is a free trade agreement between our two countries and in the past 12 years, China has been Australia's largest trading partner and Australia's largest export market and source of imports. In bilateral economic and trade relations, Australia has a surplus in goods trade and service trade. Meanwhile, China's investment in Australia is more than Australia's investment in China so it can be said that China-Australia commercial relationship has brought huge benefits to Australia.
Take last year as an example. Everyone knows that the world economy is in recession due to the pandemic and while Australia's global trade declined, its trade with China increased. Australia's global export dropped as much as 8% but its export to China was down by less than 3%. You can see that the China-Australia bilateral economic and trade relationship has brought benefits to Australia, and of course, it also brought benefits to China. We believe that this is a mutually beneficial and win-win relationship. This economic and trade relationship is worth attention and care from both sides.
However, it is very regrettable that some individuals in Australia have stigmatized bilateral economic and trade relations, investment projects, and some normal economic and trade cooperation, adopting some restrictive and even discriminatory measures which have damaged bilateral economic and trade cooperation. We always believe that a healthy and stable China-Australia relationship is very beneficial to economic and trade cooperation, and is of common interest for both sides. We hope that Australia can take more actions that are conducive to increasing trust and cooperation and that are more in line with the spirit of the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries. This in turn will promote the healthy and stable development of bilateral economic and trade relations. Thank you.
China News Service:
We have noticed recent reports that the progress of some "Belt and Road" construction projects have been affected due to the pandemic, and some Chinese companies may face a relatively high risk of default. Under the complex and volatile international situation, what measures will the Ministry of Commerce take to guide Chinese enterprises to better "go global" and serve the Belt and Road construction? Thank you.
Thank you for your question. Since President Xi Jinping put forward the major initiative of jointly building the Belt and Road, China and relevant countries have adhered to the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits, and have continuously deepened practical cooperation in various fields, achieving fruitful results. The "Road and Belt" initiative has attracted worldwide attention and made very important contributions to promoting the construction of an open world economy and building a community with a shared future for mankind.
Last year, in the face of unfavorable factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, China and relevant countries helped each other to overcome difficulties side by side, and promoted the Belt and Road cooperation to achieve new progress and results. The annual trade volume of goods with countries along the Belt and Road route totaled $1.35 trillion, a year-on-year increase of 0.7%. Meanwhile, non-financial direct investment in countries along the route was $17.79 billion, an increase of 18.3% year-on-year. Major projects, including the China-Laos railway, the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, the China-Belarus industrial park, and many others have made positive progress.
The fifth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) made new arrangements for Belt and Road cooperation, which guided our next steps. The Ministry of Commerce will resolutely implement the decisions and deployments of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, centering around building a new development paradigm, focusing on economic and trade cooperation of the Belt and Road, and promoting high-quality Belt and Road cooperation. This year, we will focus our work in four aspects:
First, we will improve the quality of trade. We will work hard to expand two-way trade with Belt and Road partner countries, and in particular, increase the import of quality products from these countries so that more countries can share the dividends of our super-sized domestic market. Meanwhile, we need to develop "Silk Road e-commerce", and promote the integrated development of new forms and models of business such as cross-border e-commerce and the BRI to create new impetuses for the construction of major trade passageways such as the China-Europe freight train services and the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor. Simultaneously, we will also promote the establishment of high-standard free trade zones to create a free and convenient international environment for the BRI cooperation.
Second, we will make innovations in investment cooperation. We will take measures to innovate overseas investment cooperation, promote upgrading overseas contracted projects, and expand third-party market cooperation. By doing this, we aim to promote the development of high-quality cooperation projects and carry out foreign assistance programs that will benefit the people and encourage capable domestic enterprises to go global. Meanwhile, we need to attract more enterprises from BRI partner countries to invest in China and promote the building of industrial chains, supply chains, and value chains that benefit both sides.
Third, we will establish platforms. We will spare no effort in holding a series of important events including the fourth China International Import Expo and China International Fair for Trade in Services 2021. We will also play a supportive role for platforms such as the China Import and Export Fair, China-ASEAN Expo, China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo, China-Arab States Expo, China-Russia Expo, and China-CEEC Expo, etc., and build more platforms to deepen BRI economic and trade cooperation.
Fourth, we will strengthen the building of institutions. We will actively boost collaboration in strategies, plans, and mechanisms with BRI partner countries. Within the framework of bilateral economic and trade joint commissions and mixed commissions, we will set up additional working groups for the promotion of unimpeded trade and working groups for investment cooperation, and improve working mechanisms in fields such as trade in services and e-commerce to provide institutional guarantees for the BRI cooperation. Thank you.
This is the final question.
Hong Kong's Bauhinia Magazine:
So far, 21 pilot free trade zones (FTZs) have been established in China. What roles can these pilot FTZs play in fostering a new development paradigm? What are the specific considerations? What are the new measures for the construction of the Hainan Free Trade Port? Thank you.
Thank you for your question. I'll answer this one. General Secretary Xi Jinping has pointed out that we need to link up the construction of a new development pattern with the implementation of the strategy for coordinated regional development and the construction of pilot free trade zones to create a new highland of reforms and opening-up. As you mentioned, China has set up 21 pilot FTZs, which has formed a nationwide pattern of reform, opening-up and innovation. A total of 260 achievements of institutional innovations have been replicated and applied across the country, effectively giving full play to their role as a pilot ground for deepening all-round reform and expanding opening up on all fronts. The most important role played by pilot FTZs is the pilot ground for deepening reform and opening-up. It is fair to say that they will play an increasingly larger role in, and make great contributions to, shaping a new development pattern.
Regarding specific considerations for the next step, we will mainly work on four aspects, namely, connecting markets, coordinating rules, integrating industries, and mutually promoting innovation. I'd like to provide more details regarding these.
We will boost connectivity between markets with profound reform measures. We will continue to grant greater autonomy in reform to pilot free trade zones, put forward more preliminary measures of profound reform, and break down barriers and solve difficulties existing in connecting domestic and global markets. We will further optimize our business environment, which is based on market principles, governed by law, and meets international standards, to energize market entities. In the meantime, we will work to foster more innovative measures and promote them across the country as long as they are proven to be effective.
We will promote the connectivity of rules with high-quality opening-up measures. Whilst promoting opening-up based on the flow of production factors, we also need to foster opening up based on related institutions. Thus, we can promote the connectivity of rules via free trade zones. This means that we will work to elevate our pilot free trade zone to high-level international economic and trade standards. By doing so, we will draw up and publish negative lists for cross-border service trade for our pilot free trade zones and further promote institutional opening-up such as those concerning rules, regulations, management, and standards. Just as I've mentioned, opening up must be based not only on the flow of production factors but also on institutions. By further improving the rules, regulations, and management standards of free trade zones, we will foster institutional opening up, and achieve a higher level of opening-up.
We will promote the integrated development of industries by opening up the industrial chain. There are 21 pilot free trade zones across China, each with its resource advantages and industrial features. We encourage pilot free trade zones to develop their unique features of reform and opening-up based on their strategic position and resource advantages. That includes developing businesses that leverage local strengths with a focus on high-quality market entities so that they can act as leaders in domestic industrial transformation, improve the quality of the industrial and supply chain, and achieve high-quality development.
We will foster innovation by pooling high-end factors of production. We will support pilot free trade zones by pooling more resources from China and abroad, especially talent, capital, technology, and data. We will strengthen international communication and cooperation, focus on basic research, and step up original innovation. By doing so, we will work to make pilot free trade zones the cradle of sci-tech innovation, and foster driving forces for high-quality and innovative development.
I would also like to elaborate on the Hainan free trade port as it has drawn wide attention. The building of the Hainan free trade port has acted as a model and a flagship of China's reform and opening-up efforts. It also represents a significant and novel approach in this field. Since the release of the master plan for the Hainan free trade port last year, we have seen some promising results. According to statistics from Hainan province, its regional GDP in 2020 grew by 3.5% and the import and export of goods increased by 3%, both higher than the national average. Policies also started to pay off since the master plan was released. A total of 310,000 new market entities were established in 2020, up 30.9%. Meanwhile, 1,005 new foreign companies opened businesses in Hainan, up 197.3% year-on-year. The province attracted some 122,000 talents overall, up 177% year-on-year. Since implementing the offshore duty-free policy, the average daily sales of offshore duty-free shops in Hainan exceeded 120 million yuan by the end of 2020, up more than 200% year-on-year. The future of the Hainan free trade port is very promising.
Next, we will fully grasp and put into practice General Secretary Xi Jinping's important instructions on building the Hainan free trade port, stay focused on China's overall development and major strategies, and spare no effort to effectively implement all tasks and polices stipulated in the master plan in a bid to continuously promote trade and investment liberalization and facilitation and secure greater progress in building the Hainan free trade port. Thank you.
Thank you to all the speakers and friends from the media. Today's press conference is hereby concluded. Thank you.