The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China has released its European Business in China – Position Paper 2020/2021 (Position Paper). This annual publication delivers to the Chinese Government over 800 detailed recommendations for improving the business environment, spread across 34 industry sectors and horizontal issues. The Position Paper details how persistent issues, such as limited market access and a complex regulatory environment, prevent European businesses from contributing fully to China’s sustainable development.
This significant amount of untapped market potential could help to not only boost economic growth, but also stave off serious problems that have for some time threatened China’s development, like its burgeoning debt situation and rapidly ageing population. While the European Chamber has been advocating for increased market access and a level playing field for its members for the past two decades, it is now critical for China to enact meaningful reforms due to the economic devastation wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the looming threat of decoupling.
Although European companies remain committed to the market, a number of ‘dichotomies’ that have emerged in recent years raise questions over which direction China will eventually decide to move in:
- The ‘one economy, two systems’ model, which divides the private and state-owned economies
- The country’s economic potential versus its market access regime
- The persistent divide between China’s rhetoric and the reality on the ground
- The clash of China’s charm offensive towards European business and its ‘wolf warriors’ in Europe
These issues are further compounded by the increased politicisation of doing business in China. This is a serious factor that threatens business operations in ways that companies can neither predict nor control. European leaders currently still have the appetite for engagement, but public opinion in the Old Continent is souring on China: voters are voicing their concerns over the unbalanced economic relationship, allegations of forced labour in Xinjiang and the autonomy of Hong Kong. These issues present a real challenge for the EU and China to find an effective way forward before the window of opportunity closes.
It is therefore imperative that the EU and China strive for a political agreement on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) by the end of 2020. A half-baked deal that leaves the most critical issues unaddressed would be unwelcome and futile. Instead, it must deliver tangible results and secure open and fair markets on both sides to bolster the relationship and lay the groundwork for further productive engagement.
“Having inked bold economic agreements with numerous diverse partners in recent years, it is not revolutionary that the EU should expect a market that is as open and fair as its own when entering into such an agreement with China,” said Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China. “After more than 30 painful rounds of CAI negotiations, there’s a real sense that this is now or never.”
Please click here to download the report (registration witth an email required).