U.S., European trade groups press China to reallow entry

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - U.S. and European trade groups are lobbying China to allow foreign workers back into the country after it shut its borders in late March to non-Chinese nationals to curb the coronavirus.

FILE PHOTO: A foreign traveller wearing a mask walks past a departures information board at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, China as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, February 1, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

Having managed to all but halt domestic transmission of the virus, China now sees cases imported from abroad as the biggest threat.

Currently, it has only relaxed rules to allow some business travel from South Korea and Germany. It has also consulted with Japan about easing border controls.

A charter flight from Frankfurt, the first organised by the German Chamber of Commerce in China, is scheduled to land in Tianjin on Saturday carrying around 200 German company employees who obtained visas via a “fast-track” programme.

A second charter flight to Shanghai on June 3 is also planned and there are likely to be more given that 2,000-2,500 employees are waiting to enter China, said Jens Hildebrandt, the chamber’s North China executive director.

But staff of many nationalities employed by firms in China are still waiting for permission to return.

China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement to Reuters that China was willing to explore ways to steadily resume the exchanges of Chinese and foreign professionals, provided that the easing measures would not jeopardise controlling the pandemic.

The China-Britain Business Council said China was communicating with the British embassy to implement a “fast-track” entry arrangement for UK nationals on essential and urgent visits.

The European Union Chamber of Commerce has provided Beijing with a list of foreigners seeking return to China, according to Jacob Gunter, the chamber’s senior policy and communications manager for China.

“Although the process has been challenging ... the European Chamber believes things are heading in the right direction,” he said.

(This story drops last paragraph reference to no comment from foreign ministry)

Reporting by Emily Chow in Shanghai; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Edwina Gibbs