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China, European Union reach ‘agreement in principle’ on investments

No press conference. No text. We will therefore have to take the word of the European leaders who, like Ursula von der Leyen, President of the Commission, believe that the comprehensive investment agreement with China “Will offer European investors unprecedented access to the Chinese market”. During a video conference held on Wednesday, December 30, Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel, President of the European Council, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but also French President Emmanuel Macron, concluded, with Xi Jinping, Chinese president, a ” agreement in principle “, closing negotiations that had lasted since 2013.

Obtaining better access to the Chinese market, which is now unbalanced, while ensuring fairer conditions of competition: these are the goals that the Europeans pursued during these negotiations. But it is the issue of forced labor and the Uighurs that has interfered in the debates until the last days. “China’s commitment to ratify fundamental ILO conventions [Organisation internationale du travail] on the fight against forced labor was necessary. This is what we got “, welcomed on Twitter Franck Riester, French Minister for Trade.

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A piece of the puzzle

In reality, China’s commitment is less firm. It is limited to “Continuous and sustained efforts towards ratification” of these conventions. “China is absolutely not bound by this commitment which has nothing concrete”, regrets Janka Oertel, from the European Council on International Relations (ECFR). A diplomat puts it into perspective: “This investment agreement should not be counted on to change China. The deal is only one piece of the puzzle. “ The different pieces of the puzzle are, according to European sources, the “Other instruments” available to act on forced labor, such as the recent EU human rights sanctions regime. “Chinese concessions are not enough, but they allow us to move forward “, We judge at the Elysee.

Brussels insists that China is “Never gone so far” in opening up its markets. The agreement covers various manufacturing sectors, in particular electric or hybrid automobiles. Private hospitals are opening up to European investments in certain large cities, such as Shanghai or Beijing. Telecommunications, financial services, cloud services, those related to air transport, such as online reservation systems, are included in the agreement.

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