Geared to go

Updated: 2013-05-24 08:49

By Fu Jing (China Daily)

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 Geared to go

Left: Chi Fulin, president of the China Institute for Reform and Development. Right: Hans-Josef Fell, member of the German parliament. Photos Provided to China Daily

Geared to go

"On the free trade agreement, I was told that Brussels is closely watching for possible negotiations between Beijing and Washington," Zhang says. "Brussels wants to learn more from the negotiations between the world's biggest economies before pressing ahead."

However, with no clear indications of either Washington or Beijing making progress on the issue, Brussels and Washington are looking to launch the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations quickly.

"There is no doubt that China like many other Asia countries is concerned about the TTIP and its impact on global trade relations," says Shada Islam, the Asia head of Friends of Europe, a Brussels-based think tank.

Islam says that though European business leaders are pushing for a EU-China FTA, there seems to be no appetite for this in Brussels among trade officials. "There is a feeling that as a first step, the EU and China should negotiate and sign the Bilateral Investment Treaty and then see if an FTA is worth pursuing," Islam says.

However, Defraigne says that he feels uncomfortable with the very idea of the TTIP for three reasons. First of all, two big players setting up between themselves a joint "internal market" undermines the very purpose of the World Trade Organization. Second, the TTIP will not deliver the expected growth, but will instead harm Europe's interests and societal values. Finally, the TTIP can also be misinterpreted as a coalition of two relatively declining blocs trying to constrain China's peaceful rise as a global player.


Despite the growing trade ties between China and Germany, both sides need to take more concerted steps to increase their commercial engagement, especially exports, Chi, of the China Institute for Reform and Development, says.

"I think at a bilateral level, China and Germany should start strategic research on how to further boost trade relations and avoid disputes," says Chi, whose institute works with Germany on policy research.

The German parliamentarian Fell, while admitting that Chi's proposal is good, says both sides should strive for smooth trade relations. At the same time, the two countries should not also push for an FTA for now, as Germany is strongly pushing for a global multilateral and global trade regime.

"There is no doubt that Germany is an important economic partner for China and that Premier Li wants to keep the relationship on an even keel, especially after the recent successful visit to China by French President Francois Hollande," Islam says.

"Germany will be flattered that it is among the first European countries that Li chose to visit."

Alice Ekman, a researcher at the French Institute of International Relations, says Hollande's visit was important as it provided him an opportunity to build a personal relationship with top Chinese leaders.

Jean-Marie Le Guen, a member of the foreign affairs committee of the French National Assembly, says France is undoubtedly a key partner for China within the EU and strengthening ties with China looks more a move to facilitate market access for EU companies within China.

Ford, the former member of the European Parliament, says Germany is the single most important member state of the EU both in terms of size and political influence and both countries have been keen on keeping the relationship on the right track.

Sources in Berlin indicate that Chancellor Merkel has taken a personal interest in finalizing the detailed agenda for talks with the Chinese leader.

Indications are that she will receive Premier Li at the Meseberg Palace, north of Berlin, as part of her efforts to boost bilateral ties and maintain good ties with China. Merkel had met former premier Wen Jiabao at the same venue in 2010. Such courtesies on the part of the German chancellor are supposed to be a rare honor and something that is rarely extended to other European or global leaders.

Experts say Li would urge Merkel and her colleagues to match rhetoric with action and refrain from political actions like punitive tariffs.

"Germany is also the member state that could do the most to head off a potential trade war triggered by the European Commission's recent actions of imposing penalties on Chinese solar panels," Ford says.

Defraigne says Germany is not only an important bilateral partner for China but also the anchor country of the eurozone. "Germany needs to be reminded by its prominent friends such as China that it must do whatever it is to keep the eurozone united and to boost economic growth in Europe."