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Valdis Dombrovskis, the European commissioner for trade, will co-chair the virtual meetings with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He. Photo: EPA-EFE

China and EU to hold high-level trade talks this week after months of delays

  • Their virtual summit in April ended unsuccessfully after the EU failed to gain assurances from China that it wouldn’t support Russia’s war in Ukraine
  • Discussion topics to include supply chains, food security and energy prices, plus bilateral trade and investment concerns, says the European Commission
Just before the summer lull hits Brussels, the European Union will hold a high-level trade dialogue with China on Tuesday – talks the 27-member bloc has been trying to organise for more than three months.

Valdis Dombrovskis, the European commissioner for trade, and Chinese vice-premier Liu He will co-chair the virtual meeting, which will also include representatives from the trade and economics ministries of both sides.

According to a European Commission representative, a number of global economic challenges will be discussed, including food security and energy prices, supply chains, financial services, and bilateral trade and investment concerns.

“The dialogue is taking place against the background of war in Europe and increasing uncertainties in the global economic outlook,” the representative said.


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The last high-level meeting between the EU and China was a virtual summit in April; it ended unsuccessfully after the EU failed to gain any assurances from China that it would not support Russia’s war against Ukraine financially or militarily. But both sides agreed to talk again “to find concrete ways to progress on these issues before the summer”.

While Brussels continued pushing Beijing to nail down a date, China took time in responding.

Noah Barkin, a Berlin-based analyst of Europe-China relations at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said this slow response probably had to do with Beijing trying to adjust to its new relationship with Europe.

“The days of win-win EU-China meetings, where the differences are papered over and half-baked agreements are held up as deliverables, are long gone. China is adjusting to a new reality in which the EU is raising all the contentious issues in the relationship every time they meet. It would prefer to avoid this,” he said.

China silent on date for EU trade talks despite summit pledge

Francesca Ghiretti, an analyst at the Berlin-based think tank Mercator Institute for China Studies, said China was also keen to revive its economy and strengthen global trade ties, including with the EU.

According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the country’s economy grew by 0.4 per cent in the second quarter, compared with a year earlier, down from the 4.8 per cent growth seen in the first three months of the year.

“While diplomatic relations between the EU and China haven’t exactly been rosy in the past two years, the economic impact of the pandemic – and especially the dynamic zero-Covid policy coupled with the current state of the global economy – has made China eager to resume normal business relations with the EU,” Ghiretti said.

“China has also been speeding up its efforts to diversify its economic relationship with other developing economies. The sanctions in response to the invasion of Ukraine had an impact on the acceleration of the process. But that does not mean that China is not going to need European and American markets,” she added.

Vice-Premier Liu He will be China’s leading representative at the talks. Photo: AP

The China Chamber of Commerce to the European Union (CCCEU) is optimistic about the upcoming trade talks.

“The Chinese business community welcomes the dialogue because it is set to help the two sides go through their economic and trade agendas to identify areas for cooperation as well as manage differences or disputes that may hinder mutual trust,” the chamber said.

According to Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office, in 2021, China was the third largest partner for EU exports of goods (10.2 per cent) and the largest partner for EU imports (22.4 per cent).

While the CCCEU is convinced that maintaining solid and uninterrupted Sino-EU economic ties will enhance global trade stability and growth, it hopes the talks will address its “concerns about the EU’s increasingly restrictive investment and business environment”.

State-backed foreign firms acquiring companies in the European Union will soon be subject to a regulation that aims to address foreign subsidy distortions in the bloc’s internal market.

China firms warn EU foreign subsidy rule could hit investor confidence

The EU has also not yet ratified the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment with China, which Beijing considers “diplomatically significant”.

Ghiretti said she did not expect any new deals to come out of the upcoming talks.

“China is using its old strategies to engage the European Union, and they have not been proposing anything new but will try to revive old topics,” she said.

“Since Beijing is very much aware of the fact that European businesses still want to invest in China, they will keep pushing the comprehensive agreement on investments even though Beijing knows it has little chances of success,” she said, adding: “On the European side, things on this topic won’t move because the EU still needs to ratify the legal framework for the agreement before implementing it, and that remains highly unlikely to happen.”