EU: No fast trade deal with China

Beijing – The European Union is in no rush to seal a major trade deal with China despite Beijing saying good progress had been in the talks, an EU spokesman said after a meeting between top officials on Thursday.

The long-awaited EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) was on the agenda when European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing to discuss international and regional issues.

After the talks, Li said he hoped the agreement would be completed as soon as possible.

“We hope the EU will continue to support multilateralism and free trade, and treat each other with mutual respect,” Chinese state broadcaster CCTV quoted the premier as saying.

Mogherini said relations with China were a priority for the EU and the bloc hoped they would both strengthen cooperation on climate change, Iran’s nuclear programme, and issues in Afghanistan and Africa.

Beijing and Brussels agreed in 2012 to pursue a trade agreement – which is expected to cover treatment of and market access for European companies in China – but progress has been slow.

William Fingleton, spokesman for the EU’s delegation office in Beijing, said trade negotiations had intensified since the last EU-China Summit in April, with formal rounds taking place about once a month.

“There certainly seems [to be] political ambition on both sides to get it done … But we have always maintained that we are not interested in a rushed agreement but in a good agreement,” Fingleton said.

The next round of talks is expected in early November, according to EU documents.

In Paris on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said he was “very confident” about finishing the deal on time, and said negotiations were “progressing well”.

Ding Chun, director of the Centre for European Studies at Fudan University, said the deal might even be completed ahead of schedule, in the first half of next year.

“There has been a positive push recently. This is important for the EU and China to achieve, not only against the backdrop of the US-China trade disputes, but also the EU’s own disputes with the US,” Ding said.

The EU is already China’s biggest trading partner, and the two trade at a rate of over €1.7 billion (US $1.89 billion) per day. China is the EU’s second-largest partner, after the United States.

The EU says the purpose of the deal to establish rules for a level playing field to increase investment between the sides, but also to push China to deal with issues like industrial overcapacity, and to encourage market-based reforms.

The EU has become more critical of China, in March labelling China a “systemic rival” as well as partner for cooperation in international affairs. Beijing and Brussels have also been at odds over the protests in Hong Kong.

China’s foreign ministry lashed out at the EU in August, accusing it of “meddling” it China’s internal affairs, after Mogherini and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland called for a de-escalation of tensions and supported protesters’ rights to peaceful assembly.

“Foreign Minister Wang Yi has delivered a very consistent message on Hong Kong, and has spoken out about violence, and the intervention of external powers,” Ding said. (SCMP)