EurActiv - Letters to the Editor

Sir,

Regarding ‘Lawmakers rethinking EU stance on China‘:

On 29 April, [European Commission] President [José Manuel] Barroso will travel to China with an impressive delegation of commissioners and high-level delegates. Apart from celebrating the opening of the World Expo, this visit is a good opportunity to present European concerns and ambitions towards the second-largest economy in the world.

Relations with China are at a crossroads, and political leaders seem to hesitate between taking a tough stance on the alleged under-evaluation of the yuan or the increasing problems of counterfeiting, or instead adopting a policy of dialogue and comprehension for the specific environment in China.

EUROCHAMBRES would like to see a healthy mix of both defensive and offensive initiatives being developed, in the interest of European business.

One important element on the ‘defensive’ side is the reform of the National Indigenous Innovation Product Accreditation System (NIIPAS), a system where companies apply for their products to be accredited as ‘national indigenous innovation products’ and then receive preferential treatment for government procurement.

Already in December, EUROCHAMBRES – together with other business organisations – called upon the Chinese authorities not to implement the system, since it will restrict China’s capacity for innovation, impose onerous and discriminatory requirements on companies seeking to sell into the Chinese government procurement market, and contravene multiple commitments of China’s leadership to resist trade and investment protectionism and promote open government procurement policies.

We welcome the fact that there are now ongoing negotiations on modified new legislation regarding NIIPAS and we strongly support the European Commission’s plan to respond to the consultation process recently opened by the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology. EUROCHAMBRES urges Mr Barroso to use the occasion of this meeting to ensure that the interests of European businesses are taken into consideration.

A second priority on the defensive side is to step up protection of property rights (IPR). EUROCHAMBRES has been following very closely the negotiations towards achieving an Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and is pleased with the release to the public on 21 April of the consolidated text so far agreed by the parties.

Indeed, we believe the current international framework for IPR issues is insufficient, because counterfeiting and piracy keeps increasing, the Internet is growing in its importance and discussions on enforcement in international fora are not making enough progress. ACTA can be an efficient tool to fight these plagues. We urge the Commission to put all the necessary pressure on the Chinese authorities for them to join these negotiations. Indeed, a country which is responsible for producing and selling of 54% of the 178 million articles seized at EU borders in 2008 cannot be left out of this agreement, and has to increasingly take responsibility in this global fight.

At the same time, Europe needs to become more active in its ‘offensive’ approach to the Chinese market and EUROCHAMBRES has frequently called for more ‘economic diplomacy’.

The European Commission’s initiative to establish an SME Centre in China is a welcome step. Clearly, the Centre needs to build on the concept of complementarity so as to benefit from the expertise and services offered by the existing service providers already established in the market, e.g. Chambers of Commerce, trade promotion agencies, etc., and not to distort the competition. At the same time it needs to have close structural links with the European market where the target beneficiaries, i.e. European SMEs, are based. On that basis, the SME Centre can be a gateway for newcomers on the Chinese market, especially coming from new member states.

A further example to promote European interests in China is the ‘Understanding China’ programme, which is co-funded by the European Commission and implemented by EUROCHAMBRES and a consortium of 11 partners. The programme aims to increase the understanding of European SMEs of the Chinese market through a range of concrete instruments. In 2010, 30 China experts from Chambers of Commerce and related organisations will go through an in-depth training programme, both in Europe and China, to enhance their capacity to support SMEs. In addition, round table discussions will be organised with European SMEs to understand their problems when doing business with China and propose policy priorities. Also the China Advisory Council (CAC) is part of this programme: the next meeting of the CAC, at the end of May, will focus on investment policies with China.

These, and other initiatives, all contribute to shaping a European identity and a common policy towards China. For European business, China is a land of opportunity, but we must make sure our companies can grasp that opportunity and compete with confidence.

Alessandro Barberis

EUROCHAMBRES

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