BEIJING/SHANGHAI—The European Union on Nov. 1 called for China to take concrete steps to further open its market to foreign firms and provide a level playing field, saying it would not sign up to any political statement at next week’s major import fair in Shanghai.
Critics see the China International Import Expo (CIIE), which is set to run from Nov. 5 to 10, as an ill-conceived event that is less about business and more about political posturing amid trade tensions between China and the United States.
The EU has many of the same complaints as the United States when it comes to Chinese trade practices and the treatment of foreign firms.
“For us, as one of China’s most important trading partners, success will be measured by the timely, concrete and systemic measures that China implements,” the EU said.
“These measures should go beyond tariff adjustments and aim to address the many long-standing trade and investment concerns. Our expectation is a clear-cut statement by the Chinese government which lays out details and timelines for such measures,” it added.
“As it is a country-specific initiative that focuses on imports into/opening-up the Chinese market, we would not endorse any joint political CIIE statement.”
Underscoring European concerns, a new strategy paper from Germany’s influential BDI industry federation calls on firms to reduce their dependence on the Chinese market, according to a draft seen by Reuters, in a sign of rising concern over Beijing’s state-driven economic model.
Also on Thursday, Germany and France urged Beijing to do more to address concerns about the business environment through “concrete and systematic measures.”
In a rare joint op-ed in the business magazine Caixin, the German and French ambassadors to China said European businesses should have the same opportunities in China as Chinese industries have in Europe.
French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert and German Ambassador Clemens von Goetze said the expo was timely.
“French and German companies are looking forward to China demonstrating that it will not waver and will deepen its opening-up and reform policy in order to create a level playing field for foreign businesses in China,” their article said.
Western governments and businesses have long complained about discriminatory Chinese policies and market access restrictions.
“International businesses operating in China are awaiting a more holistic reform agenda to increase international investment and resolve the existing challenges,” the op-ed said. “We encourage China to address these issues through concrete and systematic measures that go beyond tariff adjustments.”
China should introduce quicker, scientifically-based procedures for agricultural products (SPS), abolish all joint venture requirements, ensure that implementation of cybersecurity legislation does not create barriers to business or discriminatory practices, and better protect intellectual property rights, it said.
But more also needs to be done, giving European companies the same opportunities in China that Chinese firms enjoy in Europe, they added.
“The Shanghai expo comes at just the right time. Forty years after their inception, China should give the reform and opening-up policies fresh impetus and create new political and economic momentum for foreign business,” they wrote.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced the import expo in early 2017 and is expected to speak at its opening.
The expo, which will fill an exhibition hall bigger than 35 soccer pitches, is one of the most important events on China‘s diplomatic calendar this year.
Chinese embassy staff around the world and officials at home have spent months pressing foreign businesses and governments to participate, according to diplomats and businessmen.
By Ben Blanchard & John Ruwitch