The Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) signed between China and the European Union in the last days of 2020 - even as it was stiffly opposed by the United States - can only be a global public good. Coming as this does in the wake of November's agreement on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the CAI is an important signal that much of the world sees merit in keeping borders open to trade, investment and people. Both the RCEP and CAI still have a ways to go - several months at least - before they take effect. However, that does not detract from the strategic implications of the CAI deal or the diplomatic triumph it represents for China and President Xi Jinping.
Under the deal, European firms can expect to compete more equally with state-owned companies in China, the EU's second-largest trading partner after the US. It requires Beijing to ratify International Labour Organisation rules banning the use of forced labour, and allow workers to form unions. It also has provisions for settling disputes, requires greater disclosure of Chinese state subsidies and restricts China's practice of demanding that foreign investors share their technology. Some of these requirements are going to be tricky for Beijing; independent trade unions, for instance, are not easy to countenance at a time when the Chinese Communist Party is gathering - not yielding - more power.