China wishes to share its development opportunities with the CEE countries and foster new drivers for China-CEEC cooperation. Here I wish to make the following proposals on our future cooperation.
First, we need to jointly uphold the multilateral trading system. A free and open international trade and investment environment is essential for deepening China-CEEC cooperation. The rules-based and WTO-centered multilateral trading system, which was established on the basis of historical lessons and through sustained and hard work by all parties, plays an irreplaceable role in the global economic and trade system. It is true that certain aspects of the WTO rules need to be reformed and improved to reflect changing realities and enhance their authority and effectiveness. China also takes a positive stand to the WTO reform. That said, the reform does not mean starting all over again or serving the interests of only a small number of countries. The fundamental principles and core values of the WTO, such as openness, transparency, inclusiveness and non-discrimination, should remain unchanged. Nor should there be any change in the direction of trade liberalization. Otherwise, the reform may disrupt global trade and stall global growth.
As a developing country, China believes that the reform should accommodate the concerns of the majority of WTO members, uphold the development rights and interests and the special and differential treatment of developing members, and create conditions for narrowing the North-South gap. China stands ready to work with CEE countries to advance economic globalization, uphold multilateralism, and make the global governance system more just and equitable.
Second, we need to further expand our trade volume. Economic and trade cooperation between China and the CEE countries promises a huge potential. Last year, bucking the global trend of slowing trade growth, China-CEE trade saw a robust increase of 21 percent, reaching 82.2 billion U.S. dollars. China does not seek trade surpluses. What we want is an improving trade structure along with growing trade. We will explore every possible means to increase imports as a way to promote balanced trade. The quality yet inexpensive agricultural products from CEE countries are popular in China. Last year, China-CEEC agricultural trade exceeded 1.2 billion U.S. dollars, with wine and dairy product trade up by 37.6 percent and 85.5 percent respectively over 2014. To meet the diverse needs of Chinese consumers, we are ready to import more specialty and quality agricultural products from CEE countries. To this end, China will further speed up the inspection and quarantine process and facilitate the export of high-quality agricultural products from the CEE countries to China.
Third, we need to promote cooperation on the development of the BRI. The BRI follows the approach of consultation and collaboration for shared benefits, and upholds the principles of openness, transparency and inclusiveness. It is not meant to replace existing mechanisms and initiatives on regional cooperation, but to build on the good foundations to promote win-win and common development of all participating countries. All the 16 CEE countries have signed BRI cooperation agreements with China. Recently, European countries such as Italy and Luxemburg have also signed such MoUs with China.
China is committed to strengthening the complementarity of development strategies with CEE and other European countries to better leverage our comparative strengths. We also stand ready to promote cooperation on cross-border connectivity, industrial capacity and equipment manufacturing to boost the level of economic, trade and investment cooperation and achieve win-win outcomes and common prosperity. The second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will be held at the end of this month in Beijing, where the parties will explore new ways to promote BRI cooperation through further consultations.
Fourth, we need to step up efforts to expand innovation cooperation. Given our comparative strengths in innovation, there is much space to tap in our cooperation. The Chinese side will work with CEEC governments to encourage cooperation in joint research and joint laboratories, and expand exchanges between scientists and in science popularization. We need to earnestly implement the Science, Technology and Innovation Partnership, hold a successful Conference on Innovation Cooperation, and foster new areas of innovation cooperation such as digital economy, e-commerce, FinTech, and smart cities. We need to work together to maintain a fair, just and non-discriminatory market environment to pave the way for progress in innovation cooperation.
Developing the green economy is the shared goal of China and the CEE countries and an important part of innovation cooperation between the two sides. We need to make good use of the new Environmental Protection Cooperation Mechanism, encourage subnational cooperation on the implementation of environmental protection demonstration projects, promote cooperation in joint research and environmental protection technology, and expand joint development of wind, solar and other clean sources of energy. We also need to encourage relevant institutions to support cooperation projects on the green economy through issuing green bonds and other means to increase the green elements of China-CEEC cooperation.
Fifth, we need to continue to advance cooperation between our SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) and on industrial park development. Both China and CEE countries have a large number of SMEs, which are important sources of jobs and innovation. They deserve an important place in China-CEEC cooperation. The SMEs Cross-Border Matchmaking Event to be held during the Business Forum is expected to deliver more results in this field. China welcomes the launch of the Coordination Mechanism for SMEs website in Croatia, and welcomes SMEs from CEE countries to participate in the second China International Import Expo.
Industrial parks provide an effective platform for SMEs to achieve cluster development and economies of scale, and serve as an important channel for enhancing cross-border SME cooperation. We need to ensure the smooth operation of the China-CEEC Demonstration Zone for Economic Cooperation and Trade in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, the SMEs Cooperation Zone in Cangzhou, Hebei Province, the People-to-People Exchange and Experience Headquarters in the Yangtze River Delta Industrial Zone, and the China (Liaoning) CEEC Pavilion to build bridges for cooperation between our businesses. We welcome CEE countries' participation in the development of industrial parks in various forms, and will continue to improve laws and regulations to create an enabling investment climate for companies from CEE countries in China.
Sixth, we need to deepen people-to-people and cultural exchanges and cooperation. China-CEEC friendship has taken deep roots, and mutually beneficial cooperation between the two sides has yielded fruitful results. We need to build on the positive momentum generated by the China-CEEC Education and Youth Exchange Year to ensure the success of the China-CEEC Education Policy Dialogue and the meeting of the China-CEEC Higher Education Institutions Consortium. China will invite education officials and heads of universities of CEE countries to visit China to promote cooperation between institutions of higher education and carry out capacity building programs in educational fields. China will continue to support the development of Confucius Institutes to provide better services for the people of CEE countries to learn the Chinese language. China supports the establishment of a China-CEEC Youth Development Center at an early date and will continue to hold China-CEEC youth camps and university winter sports festivals to enhance mutual understanding and friendship between the young people of our countries.
We need to give better play to the role of the China-CEEC Coordination Center for Cultural Cooperation in promoting cultural dialogue and people-to-people communication. We need to make good use of existing platforms to expand cooperation between our local governments and think tanks as well as in tourism, health, sports and other fields. We need to hold a successful China-CEEC Forum of Capital City Mayors to encourage direct cooperation between our local governments. The beautiful landscapes, profound historical and cultural legacies, and rich tourism resources have made CEE countries popular destinations for Chinese tourists. China welcomes the holding of tourism expos in China by companies from CEE countries. As conditions permit, China is ready to explore the possibility of opening more direct flights to facilitate the travel of Chinese tourists to CEE countries.
Here, I would like to announce that China will host the ninth China-CEEC Summit next year. It will be the second summit to be held in China after the Suzhou Summit in 2015. I look forward to seeing you all in China and working with you to map out the blueprint for China-CEEC cooperation.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China as well as the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and some CEE countries. Building on the good progress we have made in our friendly cooperation over the past seven decades, China is ready to work with CEE countries to open up greater space for our cooperation. As a Croatian proverb goes, "The bread is made of numerous grains while the palace is built out of many stones." Similarly, we in China often say, "Tiny streams converge to make rivers and seas." As long as we all pitch in and persist in our efforts, China-CEEC cooperation will only grow stronger, deliver greater benefits to our peoples, and make new contribution to China-Europe friendship and cooperation as well as world peace and development.