The European Commission’s 10-point plan to achieve a better balance in its economic relations with China made its debut to the public on 12 March, taking the form of an action plan that marks a shift in the bloc’s stance towards its top trading partner.
The move will be put to EU leaders to discuss at their next regular summit meeting in Brussels on 21-22 March before the EU-China summit scheduled for 9 April.
According to the Commission, Europe should become more assertive with China as they are both strategic partners and competitors, a sentiment Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen reiterated shortly after the plan’s release.
The economic relationship can develop to both sides’ mutual benefit as long as the competition is fair, the Commission said. The EU should, therefore, seek a more balanced economic exchange while at the same time better protecting its own companies from takeovers. Recently, uncertainty about date security at mobile giant Huawei clouded the relationship.
Katainen also said that relations could improve and be beneficial if trade and investments were reciprocal, but that the EU needed to ensure a level playing field and protect its markets from distortions.
The Commission’s proposals will be discussed at the next EU Summit on 21 and 22 March, where the UK’s departure from the bloc is expected to dominate the discussion. If the EU agrees, the bloc would urge China to sign up for an overhaul of the World Trade Organisation rules, notably regarding subsidies and forced technology transfer, and conclude a deal with the EU on investment rules by 2020.
The Commission urged all of the EU nations to revive a proposal, which is currently frozen, of the International Procurement Instrument that would require foreign countries to open up their public tenders in return for access to the EU.
The Commission believes Chinese bidders for EU public contracts should meet high labour and environmental standards and wants to adapt EU law to limit the influence of state-owned enterprises and state subsidies in the European market.
Furthermore, according to the Commission, the bloc should find a common line on the security of planned high-speed 5G telecoms networks.
China is the EU’s biggest source of imports and its second-biggest export market after the US, with the Chinese trade surplus in goods with the EU measuring at €177.7bn in 2017.