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EU-China Summit Ends with Smiles

10 April 2019

10 April 2019

EU-China Summit Ends with Smiles

After lengthy and tough negotiations, the EU-China summit on 9 April ended with smiles and a joint statement. Presidents Tusk and Juncker plus Premier Li Keqiang spoke of a win-win outcome despite the fact that the EU had recently labelled China ‘a systemic rival,’ a description borne out of frustration at China’s failure to keep to promises made at previous summits.

Tusk said the united EU position had led to progress on some of the EU's most difficult problem areas with China, notably an agreement to tackle the sensitive issue of industrial subsidies within the WTO framework. There was also movement on geographical indications and a pledge to wrap up the bilateral investment treaty talks by 2020. For the first time China acknowledged there was a problem with enforced technology transfer. 

It had been touch and go right up to the start of the summit whether there would be an agreed joint statement. The EU negotiating team had been given strict instructions to follow tough Council guidelines on securing a meaningful text based on the new buzz word – reciprocity. They also had recent European Council conclusions on trade defences, investment screening and public procurement in the back of their heads. 

For China it was an opportunity to show the US that negotiations do succeed without the imposition of huge tariffs. At the press conference Premier Li made a point of comparing the ongoing trade disputes with the US to the shared commitment of China and the EU to a rules-based system centred on the UN and WTO. He pledged that European companies will enjoy equal access in Chinese markets. 

Juncker noted that an agreement made sense given that the EU was China’s largest trading partner and China was the EU’s second largest. He also insisted that there were now concrete deadlines for assessing progress.

There were a number of side meetings including on energy, foreign policy and connectivity with agreement to launch a joint study on improving the inter-connectedness of rail systems.

After Brussels, Premier Li travelled to Croatia for a bilateral meeting plus the 16+1 summit in Dubrovnik.