EU, China pledge for more trade

It is time to further cement ties, boost economic cooperation, experts say

Business people in China and the European Union have pledged to team up to push for more trade and investment relations amid geopolitical headwinds.

The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, or EUCCC, which represents EU businesses operating in China, and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce to the EU, or CCCEU, which represents Chinese companies in the EU, held a business leaders roundtable in Brussels on Friday, the first such formal event since the CCCEU was founded in 2018.

Joerg Wuttke, president of the EUCCC and chief representative of BASF in China, said the two chambers are best placed to advocate smooth trade and investment relations, and said he hopes there will be no more tit-for-tat actions, without specifying whether he was referring to the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. The agreement's ratification was blocked by the European Parliament after the EU and China imposed tit-for-tat sanctions on each other in early 2021.

The agreement, if ratified, will address many of the market access concerns by EU investors in China and ensure more stable EU policy on Chinese investment in the EU.Both chambers have long supported the agreement.

Wuttke said he was glad to be able to travel outside China for the first time in three years.

"That's very important because we need human touch in our business engagements," he said. "We need our politicians to meet. We need to build trust at the high level."

Wuttke called Chinese counterparts "comrade-in-arms", saying "we are in the same business, we are in advocacy, we are agency for change, and we are trying to make the business environment in our respective regions better for us to conduct our business".

Wuttke's delegation ended a five-day tour in Europe on Friday, their first since February 2020 because of the pandemic. They met senior officials at the European Commission, the European Parliament and industry and business associations.

Xu Haifeng, chairman of the CCCEU, applauded the first in-person high-level event between the two chambers.

"It is our due responsibility to promote bilateral trade and address global challenges," he said.

"As China and the EU are both advancing their green and digital transitions and economic modernization, there is great potential for cooperation to tap."

Xu talked of positive news for 2023 such as China's determination to continue to open up and modernize its economy and the rebound of economic activities after the easing of pandemic control restrictions. However, he warned of the mix of difficulties China and the EU face as a result of geopolitical conflict, energy price rises and supply chain disruptions.

The World Bank forecast last week that global economic growth will slow sharply this year, to 1.7 percent, with the 20-member eurozone economy stagnating and then growing 1.6 percent next year, while China's economy is forecast to grow 4.3 percent this year and 5 percent next year.

"It is high time for China and Europe to further cement their economic and trade relations and work to jointly address the issues" that concern them both, Xu said.

In a report issued on Sept 30, the CCCEU said Chinese businesses in the EU recorded rapid growth despite headwinds but sentiment on the bloc's business environment fell to a three-year low. The report urged the EU not to selectively decouple from China in targeted high-tech, digital and green sectors.

A similar position paper by the EUCCC last year made 967 recommendations for China.

The EU has tightened screening of Chinese investment in recent years, sometimes mimicking the US by playing up national security concerns.

Following the EU's widespread restrictions on Huawei's 5G as a result of heavy pressure from the US, Brussels is now facing another test as the US presses ASML of the Netherlands, the world's top chip equipment manufacturer, to ban exports to China, a move both ASML and Dutch officials have questioned.

Zhonghua Xu, national chair of the EUCCC's energy working group, said his group has built a dynamic ecosystem involving hundreds of Chinese and EU businesses, focusing on green hydrogen, offshore wind, energy storage and smart energy.

"We need to work with each other," said Xu, who is also head of TotalEnergies R&D for Asia.

Zhang Hui, vice-president for Europe of the Chinese electric vehicle maker Nio, said his company has more than 1,000 partners in Europe, which gives his company huge market potential.

"We want to make our contribution to the Green Deal and Fit-for-55 in Europe," he said, referring to the EU's ambitious plans for climate neutrality by 2050.