Monday 20 May 2019

Trade and rights hit EU talks with China

President of the European Council Donald Tusk. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville
President of the European Council Donald Tusk. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Robin Emmott and Philip Blenkinsop

Tensions over trade, investments and minority rights are preventing China and the EU from agreeing a joint declaration at a summit next week, multiple sources in Brussels said yesterday, sapping a European push for greater access to Chinese markets.

Alarmed by potential Chinese dominance of strategic European industries, EU leaders last month sought to prepare for the April 9 summit - flagged as a chance to cement bilateral ties - by agreeing what they said was a more assertive stance. By diplomatic convention, joint statements are issued at the conclusion of high-profile bilateral summits to formalise policy.

Donald Tusk, the head of the European Council, has recommended rejecting the statement as it stands, according to an EU source. China had not met EU hopes that it would open its markets, nor seriously committed to reforms of global trade rules.

According to an early draft put forward by the European Union and seen by Reuters, Beijing would be bound into completing talks on an investment agreement and committing to remove what the EU says are unfair barriers to trade.

The EU also wants to show the United States that the trade war route is not the only way to coax Beijing to open up.

But Chinese officials have removed or changed many of those references, the EU diplomats said, raising the embarrassing probability of no communique at all after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk have met.

Envoys for EU nations including Britain, Germany and France said they could not back the communique on the basis of China's changes, an EU official said.

Other EU references to reassure Europeans that China is committed to confronting attacks by computer hackers and improving religious freedoms are also proving difficult, diplomats said. "We wanted to be clear on how we want to work with China, not issue a meaningless document," a senior diplomat said.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Chao said this week that both sides were working to reach a consensus. Negotiations with the Chinese would continue until Tuesday.

The intensification of EU diplomacy since March reflects frustration over China's reluctance to allow foreign companies to set up there without restrictions while taking full advantage of the EU's openness, EU diplomats say.

A surge of Chinese takeovers in critical sectors in Europe and an impression in Brussels that Beijing has not kept its promise to stand up for free trade and globalisation have given the April meeting new urgency.

Reuters

Irish Independent

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