As premier heads to Europe, China says resolute about opening its market
China is determined to open its market and is positive about promoting talks on a China-EU investment agreement, a senior Chinese official said on Saturday ahead of Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Brussels for a summit with the European Union.
The EU-China summit on June 2 will be the first since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump that has united the two economic powers against global warming and trade protectionism.
China asked that the annual summit, normally held in mid-July, be brought forward to press home President Xi Jinping's defense of open trade at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, in response to Trump's protective stance.
One big outstanding issue involves an investment pact that Beijing and Brussels agreed to negotiate in 2013 to make it easier for European businesses to work in China but which has yet to be sealed.
That is seen as a forerunner to a future free-trade accord.
EU officials have suggested that unless China moves forward with an offer to open its markets it will be hard to make progress on the agreement. Europe wants China to give EU businesses access to its market in the way that EU markets are open to Chinese investment.
Assistant Chinese Commerce Minister Li Chenggang told reporters that talks on the investment agreement was one of the most important trade and business topics between the two sides.
"The leaders and business community of China and the EU are paying great attention to these talks. There have been 13 rounds of talks to date, which have made good progress," Li said.
"Both have a consensus about reaching, at early date, a comprehensive, ambitious investment agreement," he added.
"China has always had a positive attitude toward pushing these talks. Of course, because these talks involve a wide range of topics and are very complex, China and Europe's point of view on certain issues don't completely have a consensus," Li said.
"Fortunately both sides' aim is the same. China's position on opening its market is resolute."
The need for the investment agreement is urgent and would be the easiest way for Xi to meet pledges of making China's economy open to the world, European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen told Reuters earlier this month while on a visit to Beijing.
The EU remains wary of its second-largest trading partner, concerned by China's massive steel exports, its militarization of islands in the South China Sea and a turn toward greater authoritarianism under Xi.
But it does broadly agree with China on trade, despite a long-running spat with Beijing on what Europe sees as China's dumping of low-cost goods on European markets.