On paper, the bet is successful. After seven years of fierce negotiations, the Europeans managed to “Rebalance” their trade relations with China and to conclude an agreement «The principle» on investments Wednesday, December 30. A challenge as European companies face repeated intrusion by Beijing into their businesses, spoliations of intellectual property and transfers of technology.
A panoply of advances …
Yes, the European Union has got China to open up its market to it in many areas: from the manufacturing sector to the production of electric cars, including chemicals, part of the “cloud” (databases ) and even private hospitals. European companies will be able to acquire or found a company in China while Beijing renounces forced technology transfers and undertakes to be transparent in terms of public subsidies to its companies.
→ ANALYSIS. Forced labor of Uyghurs: is an agreement between the EU and China really possible?
On paper, too, the EU has succeeded in bending the Chinese knee on the issue of forced labor on which the negotiations stumbled. Beijing « s’engage (…) to work for the ratification of the fundamental conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO), including those (prohibiting) forced labor ”, can we read in a press release.
… but the vagueness of the arbitration mechanism
” A great success “ strongly greeted by Germany on the eve of making the rotating presidency of the European Union, but which hides many shortcomings. Pressed to conclude before the arrival of Joe Biden at the White House on January 20, Europeans and Chinese have not finished drawing the contours of the protection of investments and the future settlement of disputes. They are leaving themselves two more years to complete the negotiations.
→ READ. Beijing and Brussels close to investment deal
In return for these concessions, China hopes to obtain guarantees that the European market will remain largely open to its investors. In the meantime, without sanctions or international arbitration, “The application of the agreement is based on good faith and political will”, specifies the advisor for Asia at the Montaigne Institute, François Godement. Difficult, in this case, to take the Chinese promises at face value. “China does not respect what it does”, insists Philippe Le Corre, researcher associated with the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS).
The survival of the agreement in the hands of the European Parliament
“If we take the Paris agreement [sur le réchauffement climatique, NDLR], it is clear that the coal factories began to operate at full capacity the following year of its signing. It did not respect the World Trade Organization (WTO) either. When she joined him in 2001, she had already promised to fully open her market. Shortly after, there were already violations of what was planned in terms of intellectual property and counterfeiting, but that did not prevent her from fully benefiting from her status as members of the WTO. “
How can we control that China respects its promises on investments and forced labor by Uyghurs, a Muslim minority in Xinjiang persecuted by the regime and assigned, in particular, to forced labor in the cotton fields? “To have access to the Chinese market, we sacrifice everything that concerns our values”, launches the researcher, although a “Strong enforcement and control mechanism” by a group of independent experts is provided for in the agreement.
Unsurprisingly, the enthusiasm of Brussels is also struggling to convince MEPs. However, they are the ones who will have the last word on whether or not to ratify the agreement… Which will not be judged so much for the rebalancing of the commercial balance of power between China and the EU as on Chinese advances in human rights. ‘man.