EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis told EURACTIV.com that China should deliver on its promise to open up its market, as European companies complain about the difficulties they face in the country.
European agri-food products played a leading role in the first China International Import Expo, held in Shanghai and described by Chinese President Xi Jinping as an initiative to “deepen international business cooperation for shared prosperity and progress”.
Andriukaitis, who led the European Commission’s delegation, was confident about the positive impact that the expo could have on selling more European food and drink to 1.3 billion Chinese consumers.
Against the backdrop of the ongoing difficulties in global trade, “you can see good opportunities for EU companies to enter much more actively in China, taking into account Chinese president’s promise to keep the market open”, he said.
“Today it is a very good example of how we can encourage our companies to understand that the time to act is now,” the Lithuanian Commissioner added as he visited stands of a dozen European countries.
European agri-food products are increasingly popular among Chinese consumers, especially dairy, pork and wine.
EU officials explained that they value their safety, while they are also seen as “fashionable” products.
But representatives of companies and trade associations complained to the Andriukaitis during his tour about China’s “rigid regulatory framework”.
“They see a lot of difficulties in practice,” he said.
Against this backdrop, he stressed that the priority now should be to “deliver”, in order to translate Xi’s words into actions.
“We need to discuss issues related to implementation” with the Chinese government, he added.
China is the EU’s biggest source of imports and its second-biggest export market. China and Europe trade on average over €1 billion a day.
China comes only second to the US as the main export destination for European agri-food products, with almost €12 billion in 2017 (8.7% of the total).
Still the Chinese market offers “a lot of potential” to European firms, EU officials added.
Agreement by end of the year
Sales are expected to continue growing, especially once the EU and China conclude an agreement to protect around 100 geographical indications (GIs) on each side.
Brussels and Beijing drafted the lists last year. However, the Chinese government came back with last-minute requests to add non-agrifood GIs to the list, including pottery and other craft products, EU officials explained.
However, these products cannot be protected as GIs under EU legislation.
Despite these differences, EU officials remained hopeful that a final agreement could be reached by the end of the year.
Once this agreement enters into force, an additional list of 200 products will be added incrementally over the next four years.
EU products part of the list include Polish vodka, Irish whiskey, Spanish Jamón, queso manchego, Scottish Salmon, Feta cheese, Czech beer, and various wines including Valdepeñas and Porto.
France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal and Gemany are the countries with the highest number of protected products based on their origins.
The EU stand in China’s import expo was fully dedicated to the agri-food sector, as part of the bloc’s charm offensive to promote the Common Agricultural Policy products.
Since 2016, EU institutions and member states have made €200 million available to promote European food and drink within the internal market and beyond the Union’s borders.
The Commission is expected to publish in the coming months a report to assess the first three years of this new instrument, EU officials explained.