EU, China struggle to agree summit statement

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China’s refusal to give the EU solid commitments over access to its markets is preventing the two sides from agreeing a joint statement for a high-profile summit next week, European sources said Friday.

Top EU leaders will sit down for talks in Brussels with Chinese Premier Le Keqiang on Tuesday but it looks increasingly likely there will be no common declaration at the end, dealing a blow to hopes the meeting could yield a breakthrough in Europe’s complex relationship with the Asian giant.

The EU is seeking to build on “points of convergence” with China, its second biggest trading partner, but has deep reservations about Beijing’s protectionism, trade practices and human rights record.

EU Council President Donald Tusk has told member states they should reject a draft summit statement, a source told, “given that China has not delivered on key EU expectations and demands, including ensuring market access and a level playing field for European companies operating in China.”

The source complained there was also a “lack of Chinese commitment” to serious World Trade Organization reform that would include industrial subsidies – a key demand of the EU, which says Beijing gives unfair support to its industries.

A senior EU diplomat confirmed that talks to agree a joint statement had foundered on the issues of market access and WTO reform.

“This doesn’t bode well and constitutes already now a serious burden for the summit,” the diplomat said.

“If China doesn’t change its negotiating positions substantially and engage in a meaningful way, there will not be enough common ground to agree on a joint declaration.”

Ahead of the summit, the European Commission last month labelled China a “systemic rival” and presented a 10-point plan proposing a more assertive relationship with Beijing, which French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed as a belated awakening.

Among other risks, the commission warned about the distorting effects of Beijing’s subsidies to its industrial groups, and European firms being forced to transfer technology to their Chinese subsidiaries.

There are also growing concerns about the role of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei in building Europe’s 5G infrastructure, with Washington warning the company poses a security risk to the West – something it strenuously denies.