January 17, 2020 / 6:14 AM / a month ago

EU-China investment agreement negotiations enter 'critical stage': EU ambassador

BEIJING (Reuters) - Negotiations on an investment agreement between the European Union and China are progressing and have entered a “critical stage” after six years of talks, a senior EU official said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: EU Ambassador to China Nicolas Chapuis speaks at a news conference in Beijing, China January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Progress in being achieved “month after month,” in a deal in which the EU is seeking more market access for European businesses in China, Nicolas Chapuis, EU ambassador to China, said in a news briefing in Beijing.

Sabine Weyand, the European Commission’s director general for trade, said in Brussels in December that negotiations were moving at a “snail’s pace,” the Financial Times reported.

European companies called on EU policy-makers on Thursday to toughen their approach to China to secure a level playing field for European businesses.

Both the EU and China have said they hope to conclude negotiations in 2020.

China is prioritizing its diplomatic relations with Europe, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said in December, highlighting Beijing’s efforts to become less dependent on the United States after months of trade tensions.

Chapuis also said he had been given assurances by the Chinese government on Thursday that the recently signed Phase 1 trade deal between the U.S. and China would “in no way” affect European businesses.

On Wednesday, Washington and Beijing scaled back their 18-month trade row, which has hit global economic growth, by signing an initial agreement under which China will boost its purchases of U.S. goods and services.

The European Union will be watching whether the deal complies with global trade rules, the EU’s trade chief said on Thursday.

“The devil is in the details,” EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan told a conference in London, speaking by video link from Washington. He added the details were, so far, “a bit sketchy.”

The EU, which labeled China a “systemic rival” in 2019, will hold a series of meetings with China in 2020 including a high-profile summit in Leipzig in September where China’s President Xi Jinping will join European leaders, said Chapuis.

The EU is China’s biggest trading partner, and China is the EU’s second biggest.

Reporting by Gabriel Crossley. Editing by Gerry Doyle

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