EU, China vow to uphold global trade order despite divisions

European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen (L) shakes hands with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He before their meeting
AFP

Beijing (AFP) – The European Union and China pledged on Monday to uphold a rules-based international trade system, making an oblique criticism of growing protectionism in Washington despite their own disagreements.

The two sides held high-level economic meetings in Beijing as both face rising trade tensions with the United States. Brussels and Beijing recently announced new tariffs on US goods in retaliation for moves by the Trump administration. 

“Both sides agreed to resolutely oppose unilateralism and protectionism and prevent such practices from impacting the world economy and even dragging the world economy into recession,” said Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, responsible for shepherding the world’s second largest economy.

Liu had led China’s three rounds of trade talks with the US, negotiations that have broken down over the Trump administration’s pledge to move forward with tariffs despite an agreement in May to put the duties on hold. 

“Unilateralism and trade protectionism is on the rise and tensions have appeared in the economic relations between major economies,” Liu told an audience of European and Chinese officials.

European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen echoed Liu’s words, describing the World Trade Organization “as the centre of the rules-based international trading system”. 

Even as the two sides seek common ground on combating the US moves, there are deep divisions between them. EU companies and officials harbour concerns about Beijing’s policies that are shared by their counterparts in Washington.

“We need more than just talk, we need to demonstrate adherence to international trading rules,” said Katainen, proposing reforms to develop new rules for a “global level playing field” in key areas such as “industrial subsidies”.

Beijing’s industrial policies such as the “Made in China 2025” project, which is designed to transform China from a maker of sports shoes and denims into high-tech goods, is a major concern in Washington and stands at the heart of proposed new US tariffs on China.

“The two sides committed to defend the multilateral trading system that is centred on the WTO and based on rules,” said Liu, acknowledging the need to maintain fair market access. 

Katainen called on Liu to go further in removing market access barriers for companies and preventing overcapacity in high-tech sectors “covered by the Made in China 2025 strategy”. He demanded that all industries enjoy equal treatment.

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