SOFIA — Officials, business owners and experts from 16 Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC) expressed confidence in cooperation with China, as the eighth business forum between the two sides took place on July 7.
The forum is an annual platform for stakeholders from China and the CEEC to build contacts, identify opportunities and foster cooperation through bilateral talks, seminars and presentations.
Opening this year’s forum, Premier Li Keqiang said China and the CEEC should jointly safeguard economic globalization and free trade, maintain a rules-based multilateral trading system, oppose unilateralism and protectionism, and vigorously promote trade and investment liberalization and facilitation.
Premier Li reiterated that the 16+1 cooperation is an open, transparent and inclusive platform that always follows common international rules, including the World Trade Organization regulations, and relevant EU legal and regulatory framework.
Lliya Lingorski, chief economist at Bulgarian Development Bank, told Xinhua that he was “very encouraged” by the commitment to more openness in the Premier’s speech, which could help further release the potential of the CEEC, the fastest-growing region in Europe.
He is also supportive of China’s pragmatic approach in handling its relations with the CEEC and with the EU, suggesting that following EU regulations could be beneficial to 16+1 cooperation.
“That gives more credibility to (the) project, that gives more security and confidence (to) all participating parties,” he said.
Commenting on the Premier’s call to oppose protectionism, Latchezar Dinev, chairman of the Bulgaria-China Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said countries should remember the lesson from the Great Depression in the 1930s, which arose from protectionist tariffs.
He stressed that trade relations between countries take years to build, but only months to break. “If their relations or supply chains are broken, to recover that is very difficult.”
Svilen Rangelov, founder and CEO of Bulgarian logistics startup Dronamics, shared the same view.
Rangelov told Xinhua he believes that the path to prosperity can only be achieved through lower or no trade barriers, and putting up barriers is not the way forward in a globalized era.
He’s confident that the 16+1 cooperation will make the supply chain “easy, smooth and fast,” a prerequisite for achieving greater growth.
For many CEEC business owners, the forum was a first knock on the door to the Chinese market.
Georgi Belichev, who runs Rose Medica, a family business selling the famous Bulgarian rose extract, came to the forum for the first time looking for Chinese partners.
“I’m just looking at it as a positive way for us to develop further relationships with China,” he said, adding that his company’s rose-infused products have been “amazingly well received” by Chinese companies.
Tomasz Pisula, president of the Polish Investment and Trade Agency, said he sees willingness from both the Chinese and the European sides to “invigorate trade and foster closer collaboration.”
He noted that many agreements were being signed during the forum, including one between his agency and a Chinese partner.
“For me the most important notion is that China is willing to liberate some of the trade obstacles that existed before, to import goods that are important for the Chinese population. Hopefully we can have a portion of that,” he said.