European Commission defends China trade deal after MEP warning

"I do not underestimate the huge challenge we have to bind China into a rules-based system, but we don't have an alternative to that," EU official Sabine Weyand told a panel organised by the CEPS think-tank in Brussels. [@CEPS_thinktank / Twitter]

The European Commission said Wednesday (27 January) that Beijing knows it must deliver on labour commitments in an EU-China investment deal, rebuffing criticism that Brussels had given too much ground on rights.

The statement, by the EU’s number two trade official Sabine Weyand, came after the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to denounce the recently sealed deal that MEPs said had given away too much to China on human rights.

The opinion of EU lawmakers is important as they will need to approve the German-backed investment deal that was agreed in principle last month after seven years of painstaking negotiations.

“I do not underestimate the huge challenge we have to bind China into a rules-based system, but we don’t have an alternative to that,” Weyand told a panel organised by the CEPS think-tank in Brussels.

“There is no alternative to engagement and that is what we need to do here,” she said.

Weyand shot back at critics, arguing that only so much could be expected from a deal that mainly served to open China’s closed market to European companies.

“What is your yardstick? Is it an ideal world, where we transform miraculously through an investment agreement, China, into a liberal democracy and open market economy?” she asked.

“Or should we use a yardstick to decide whether the EU has gotten the best it could?” she said, adding that the US had achieved less in their dealings with China even after a trade war.

Weyand, one of the EU’s most influential figures, also insisted that the deal pinned Beijing to certain commitments on forced labour and that Beijing had to deliver.

“We have to intelligently use that and work with the Chinese and say if you want to have a ratification of this agreement in Europe, something has to happen between now and when the vote comes,” she said.

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the deal in about a year’s time.

Her comments closely followed a warning to world leaders by Chinese President Xi Jinping against starting a “new Cold War”, insisting that he championed multilateralism.

China's Xi warns against 'new Cold War' in Davos speech

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday (25 January) in Davos called for a return to multilateralism, warning against a “new Cold War”, and urged global unity in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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