EU lobby says China should open market to meet economic goals

BEIJING (Reuters) - China should open its markets to foreign business and implement overdue reforms if it wants to achieve its economic goals, a European business lobby said on Friday, weighing in on Beijing’s new five-year plan.

Reporters raise up hands to ask questions to China's Premier Li Keqiang at a news conference following the closing ceremony of China's National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has said the country faces a tough battle to keep its economy growing by at least 6.5 percent a year over the next five years while creating more jobs and restructuring inefficient industries.

To breathe new life into the economy, leaders have put forward various plans to make the country a world leader in advanced industries such as semiconductors, robotics, aviation equipment and satellites.

The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said it welcomed China’s goals to increase innovation, reform state-owned firms, and develop environmental technology as part of an economic plan for 2016-2020 set out at an annual session of parliament which closed this week.

However, a Made in China 2025 initiative to drive domestic innovation would only succeed in tandem with markets that are “permitted to operate freely”, it said in an emailed statement.

“Stronger protection for intellectual property rights and greater respect for trade secrets of firms operating in China are further examples of measures that will support innovation,” the chamber said.

China’s reforms should “involve pursuing a genuine market opening based on customers’ demands, not policy planning”, it said.

Growth of 6.5 percent would be welcomed by most countries but it would be the slowest pace in China in a quarter century as the world’s second biggest economy grapples with wobbly financial markets, softening global trade and efforts to reduce environmental degradation.

Officials have repeatedly pledged to lower market access barriers, but foreign industry groups say a list of prohibited and restricted industries for foreign investors is still too broad and must be cut back.

Business advocates cite sluggish progress in reform efforts and policy uncertainty as weakening confidence in the market.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel