By Liang Chen
China is trying hard to create an open and good environment for all foreign companies, the Ministry of Commerce reiterated yesterday in response to renewed EU accusations of trade protectionism.
"China endeavors to provide and promote a good investment environment for all foreign companies, and our work is affirmed by the vast majority of the enterprises," an official of the Information Office of the Ministry of Commerce, surnamed Chen, told the Global Times yesterday.
The comment came after the European Union Chamber of Commerce released the ninth edition of its primary annual lobbying document in Beijing yesterday. It lambasts China for increasing market-access barriers, and indicated that signs of trade protectionism in China are growing amid the global economic crisis.
The report did, at the beginning, briefly acknowledge some progress China made last year, such as enacting laws on food safety, postal services, insurance and the circular economy initiative, granting foreign banks the right to trade RMB corporate bonds, and lowering barriers for inbound tourism.
However, Joerg Wuttke, president of the EU Chamber, said that over the past year, the chamber has noted "a gradual slowdown – and in some cases a partial reversal – in the economic opening-up process."
"China's experience in the last three decades has clearly
proved that increased opening and reform has bred the greatest success," he said.
He also blamed China for unequal treatment of local and foreign companies, and the limits on joint ventures with EU companies.
The public procurement process also sees a "troubling absence" of equal treatment for domestic and foreign companies, the report said.
But Chinese experts see this from a different perspective.
"Apparently, trade protectionism emerges among some of China's major trading partners, and the resurgence of trade protectionism appears in the EU, amid the financial turmoil," Sun Yongfu, the director general of the Europe Division of the Ministry of Commerce, told a news briefing Monday.
The EU and China are major trading partners, with trade reaching $160 billion from January to June this year, while China's trade surplus with Europe has reduced from around $16 billion last year to $55.7 billion this year.
According to the Ministry of Commerce, the EU has directly invested in 747 projects in China, while Beijing has dispatched five groups of enterprises to purchase in Europe this year, with a total expenditure of $23 billion.
Sun also noted that trade friction between China and the EU has accelerated recently. Since late July, the EU has launched five anti-dumping investigations against China. China has already resorted to the WTO dispute-settlement mechanism to solve the issue.
Shen Jiru, a professor of economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, echoed Sun, saying, "China has already emphasized the importance of deepening reform and opening-up in the People's Congress this March."
"Criticism should be based on WTO rules, rather than comparisons between Chinese companies and European companies," Shen said.
The report says that further opening-up and fundamental reforms are needed, and it called on China "to create a predictable, transparent and fair business environment."
It also said that EU companies hope to see easier market access to China since the EU Chamber Business Confidence Survey 2009 highlighted the rising importance of China's market, even though China ranked 83rd in the world in a World Bank study on "ease of doing business."
Four foreign-invested wind-energy companies were rejected in the first-round bid for a 5-billion-euro project for 25 sets of wind turbine generators in May, the report said. Wuttke blamed China for unfair treatment of foreign companies.
"The accusation is pointless, as no evidence shows that Chinese companies cheated in the bid," Ding Chun, director of the Institute of European Studies at Fudan University, said.
"It's not only the price, but also technological considerations and other factors that determined the Chinese government's final choice."
Ding noted that the EU's complaints are not comparable to its long-time denial of China's market economy status.
"If there is injustice, the biggest injustice is that the EU and some other developed countries have been refusing to admit the market economy status of China, which is a dead knot either in trade or political terms," Ding said. "China's opening-up process is not a result of foreign pressure, but due to a need of our own."
The EU Chamber paper said that problems in legislation and implementation processes remain, as they ranked 1st on the European Chamber Business Confidence Survey 2009 list of obstacles to doing business in China.
The paper studied industry knowledge and expertise of the 1,400 member companies of the EU Chamber over the last six months.
The European Business in China Position Paper 2009/2010 will be presented to government and regulatory agencies in China, to the European Commission and EU member state governments, and to a wide range of business organizations and companies in China and Europe.
Zhang Han contributed to this story
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