MEPs are gearing up to torpedo an EU-China investment deal over human rights concerns.
The deal, inked at the end of December, is seen by many in Parliament as a rush job, and badly timed given China’s crackdown in Hong Kong and ongoing ill-treatment of its minority Uighur population.
“The problems with China are mounting,” said Fianna Fáil MEP Barry Andrews, who sits on the Parliament’s international trade committee.
“The opposition within the Parliament to this agreement is mounting [and it’s] very much related to Hong Kong and forced labour of the Uighurs,” he told the Irish Independent.
The European Commission says the deal will open up China’s economy in protected sectors such as energy, transport, healthcare and telecoms.
Caroline Devlin, Chair of the Ireland-China Business Association and a partner in law firm Arthur Cox, said the agreement is a “game changer” for investors.
“Setting up business in China requires significant commitment and experience, and even then the rules are complex for those investing in China,” she told the Irish Independent.
She said the deal would result in “fair competition, and allow unprecedented access for EU (Irish) investors into many sectors and businesses".
Enterprise Ireland says over 300 Irish companies are engaged with China, with exports of around €1bn in 2017.
Chinese investment here is at record highs and rose over 50pc in 2019, according to law firm Baker McKenzie.
"Ireland is viewed as a friendly destination for Chinese investment and it has been steadily increasing year on year,” Ms Devlin said, pointing to the success of Dundalk-based WuXi Biologics, which has announced its intention to build a vaccine production facility.
Before they green-light the deal, MEPs want to see China sign up to and implement the International Labour Organization’s forced labour convention and release jailed Hong Kong activists.
They have also raised the case of Irish businessman Richard O’Halloran, refused exit from China for almost two years, despite not being charged with anything.
A resolution adopted by the Parliament last week “urges China to release unjustly detained EU citizens, such as Irish citizen Richard O’Halloran”.
It’s unlikely MEPs will vote on the deal for at least a year but they intend to make their position clear in a resolution in March.
The China deal doesn’t require the approval of the Dáil or other national governments.