MEPs voted on Thursday (12 May) against granting China the status of ‘market economy’, pre-empting the proposal being prepared by the European Commission.
In a bid to influence the EU executive – which seemed inclined to grant the Market Economy Status (MES) – MEPs passed by an overwhelming majority a non-binding resolution urging the Commission to listen to the concerns of EU industry, trade unions and stakeholders, about the possible consequences for jobs, the environment and economic growth in the EU.
China’s overproduction capacity and the resulting cheap exports are already having “strong social, economic and environmental consequences in the EU”, they said, pointing to the EU steel sector.
The business community hailed the resolution. “A significant majority of MEPs do not believe it is the right time to grant China MES. China is not a market economy, and thus cannot be treated as such for the purpose of anti-dumping investigations,” said EUROFER Director General Axel Eggert, stressing that China is, by some margin, the largest dumper of steel onto the EU market.
According to the EU, of the 37 anti-dumping measures currently in force on steel, 16 involve China. If MES were to be granted the EU’s trade defence measures would become ineffective, with no other enforcement tool available.
MEPs also pointed out that 56 of the EU’s current 73 anti-dumping measures apply to imports from China.
Trade defence instruments
Some analysts insist that Beijing has been much keener to lobby for MES than reform is own economy. Most countries have concluded that China does not meet the criteria where lending and production decisions are made without any state intervention.
China, however, insists that the interpretation of its accession agreement to the WTO provides for automatically getting the MES after 15 years.
The Commission is expected to come up with a proposal on China’s trade status by July. Its options are: do nothing, grant China MES or grant the status with mitigating trade measures.
MEPs stressed the ‘imminent’ need for a general reform of EU trade defence instruments, and called on the Council to unblock a package of proposals to modernise them, on which Parliament voted in 2014.
China is the EU’s second biggest trading partner and with daily trade flows of over €1 billion, the Chinese market has been the main engine of profitability for a number of EU industries and brands, MEP also noted in the resolution – insisting on coordinated action with other major trading partners to come to a joint interpretation of WTO law.
They also urge it to use the upcoming G7 and G20 summits, as well as the EU-China Summit, to find a WTO-compatible response.
“It is important that the EU strives for a sound and balanced economic relationship with China,” said BUSINESSEUROPE Director General Markus J. Beyrer after the vote.
“The EU should reach a decision that is in line with WTO and EU law and takes into account the remainder of Section 15 of China’s WTO accession protocol. In this context it is important that the EU maintains effective trade defence instruments that take into account the real market situation in China today and in the future.”
Liberal Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake slammed the Commission for being late in addressing the issue.
“It is a shame that the discussion is only getting under way now, we have known for fifteen years that this decision would have to be made, so the Commission is rather late,” she said.
“Now we need a balanced proposal as soon as possible, in which both the interests of heavy industry and those of importers and transporters, who need access to foreign products, are taken into account.”