The equally groundbreaking and controversial investment protection agreement between the EU and China is due to be concluded this Wednesday. The negotiations at expert level are over, and the responsible Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis has recommended to his boss Ursula von der Leyen a political agreement in principle with Beijing, according to the Brussels authority. This step is to take place on Wednesday during a meeting between the Germans and China’s head of state and party Xi Jinping.
Negotiations began seven years ago and have only recently made significant progress. Beijing has now made “the necessary substantial commitments” on the three pillars of the treaty: with better market access for European companies, with fair competition and with environmental and social standards, say Brussels insiders. It is the “most ambitious” negotiation result that Beijing has agreed to so far, and it goes beyond the trade deal that US President Donald Trump made with China, for example.
But the agreement on Wednesday is only the first step
In Brussels, however, it is emphasized that the agreement on Wednesday is only the first step in a month-long process. In addition to the member states, the European Parliament must also approve, but not national parliaments. Above all, regulations on employee protection are important to the EU Parliament, such as a ban on forced labor. Critics accuse China of using the oppressed Uighur minority as slave labor. According to information from Brussels, Beijing has for the first time accepted “solid guidelines” for the environment and social issues in an agreement. Beijing wants to make “sustained and sustained efforts” to ratify the rules of the International Labor Organization (ILO) against forced labor.
The Green MEP Reinhard Bütikofer, however, does not go far enough: The EU Commission wants to “be satisfied with superficial lip service on the subject of forced labor instead of at least insisting on a schedule for the ratification of the ILO conventions, as in the case of the free trade agreement Vietnam was the case, “complains the chairman of the EU Parliament’s China delegation. In addition, Bütikofer complains that the EU creates facts without having agreed on a common China policy with the designated US President Joe Biden. In fact, Biden’s future security advisor, Jake Sullivan, wrote on twitterthat the new administration would welcome “early consultations with our European partners on common concerns about China’s practices”.
The agreement aims to give EU companies easier access to the vast Chinese market, for example in the financial, healthcare, auto and internet sectors. The companies should also be better protected against the forced transfer of technologies or unfair behavior by state-owned companies. In addition, Beijing should inform more openly about subsidies.