After seven years of negotiations, the investment agreement between China and the European Union is stuck. In question, the revelations on forced labor in Xinjiang published in recent months, especially last week in Release and on the BBC. Consequence: France will support the EU-China agreement on condition that Beijing undertakes to ratify the conventions of the ILO (International Labor Organization) prohibiting forced labor, explained Franck Riester, in an interview at World published this wednesday.
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France has set several conditions for signing this agreement. One of them: clear commitments from China on sustainable development. Box checked, since it is committed to respecting the Paris Agreement. “On the other hand, we have not yet obtained sufficient commitments on the ratification of the fundamental conventions of the ILO, in particular those concerning the abolition of forced labor”, said Franck Riester, Minister for Foreign Trade. According to the French minister, several European countries share the French position concerning forced labor, such as Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands or even Germany, which “Is very attached to these questions”.
A “Red line”
Ratification of this convention is a “Red line”, for Paris, underlines Riester in this interview, referring specifically to the case of the Uyghur people, employed en masse in a forced way in factories. “We cannot facilitate investment in China if we do not commit to abolishing forced labor!” We are therefore very clear: Beijing must ratify the conventions to which we are attached and must commit to the agreement to apply them ”.
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Last Friday, however, Beijing announced with optimism that the agreement on the protection of investments, negotiated since 2013 by China and the EU, was in “the last straight line”. And even went so far as to say that it could be signed before the end of the year. But the standoff has hardened. On Monday, Josep Borrell, the head of European diplomacy, demanded from China the immediate release of lawyer Li Yuhan and several other political prisoners.
A system condemned by the European Parliament
“There is still a long way to go before it is implemented, although negotiations have accelerated in recent weeks, especially on the Chinese side”, judged Franck Riester at World. This agreement is therefore not about to be signed. Even less after the revelations of recent weeks. According to an investigation by researcher Adrian Zenz, half a million Uyghurs are forcibly employed in the region’s cotton fields, where 85% of Chinese cotton is produced.
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Last Thursday, this slavery device was condemned by the European Parliament, which overwhelmingly adopted an emergency resolution (604 for, 20 against). In a statement, MEPs even described this practice as akin to “Crimes against humanity”. However, it is this same Parliament which will have to validate the Sino-European agreement once it is signed. And some deputies have already warned that they do not intend to close their eyes.
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Cassandre Leray (with AFP)