EU presses Beijing to drop market barriers

BEIJING • European companies suffer from accumulated "promise fatigue" over China's failure to follow through on pledges to open its market, the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said yesterday.

The chamber issued an annual 400-page report detailing the regulatory barriers that continue to hinder investment in the world's second-largest economy.

European businesses are "suffering, having witnessed a litany of assurances over recent years that never quite materialised", the position paper said. The chamber urged China to "supplant words with concrete actions and provide reciprocal access to its market".

The restrictions on foreign investments force companies abroad to partner with local firms and often share vital technology, it said.

Chinese firms face no such restrictions in EU markets, chamber president Mats Harborn said.

"We are now calling for the abolition of foreign investment laws. Chinese investments in Europe rose 77 per cent last year, while EU investments in China fell by a quarter," he added. EU investment fell a further 23 per cent in the first quarter of this year.

Responding to the EU chamber's concerns at a regular press briefing yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang praised the country's "great achievements" since it began market reforms in the late 1970s, stating: "I don't understand why certain parties would doubt our reform and opening up, which benefit both China and the world."

But in recent weeks, Chinese Customs officials have barred the import of certain mould-ripened cheeses containing cultures traditionally used in Europe. The sudden move came with little explanation.

New Chinese rules to begin on Oct 1 that require inspection certificates, even for certain low-risk food products, were "out of line with international practice", the report said, and could dramatically cut agriculture, food and beverage imports.

Without greater transparency on China's part, vaguely worded legislation would likely further bar fair competition and undermine trust, Mr Harborn said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2017, with the headline 'EU presses Beijing to drop market barriers'. Print Edition | Subscribe