EU-China Summit advises on trade conflict

The opening of the EU-China Summit, which began today in Beijing, was overshadowed by discussions about the ongoing trade conflict between China and the US.

European and Chinese leaders expressed concern over the tit-for-tat trade war and faltering negotiations on an investment protection agreement between the two sides – the EU’s call for more market opening in China and the planned reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Pressure from US President Donald Trump, and his disruptive tactics, have brought China and the EU closer together. For the first time since 2015, there will be a joint declaration at the end of the Summit.  In the trade dispute, the EU, like China, rejects Trump’s unilateral action outside the WTO, but does not want to be over-reliant on Beijing because many EU politicians share Trump’s criticism of China’s market barriers and forced technology transfer.

After talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Council President Donald Tusk and other members of the EU leadership were also welcomed by President Xi Jinping. Topics discussed include North Korea’s nuclear programme and the future of the Iran deal in light of the US’s withdrawal earlier this year.

The EU hopes the Summit will help accelerate the proposed investment agreement, and help expand agricultural exports. China has already reopened its market for beef from Ireland and France, which had closed in 2001 after the outbreak of BSE in Europe. Agricultural exports accounted for only 8 percent of all EU exports to China in 2017, but this is expected to grow.

The EU has become China’s largest trading partner. Goods worth EUR 1.5 billion are exchanged between the EU and China on a daily basis. Both sides want to set up a joint working group to discuss reforming the WTO. “The WTO may not be perfect, but it remains the only existing organisation with clear rules and a mechanism for resolving disputes,” said Hans-Dietmar Schweisgut, Head of the European delegation in Beijing.