The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, after the virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, after the virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. (YVES HERMAN / POOL / REUTERS POOL)

China and Europe have been discussing a trade agreement for seven years now: it’s hard to blame them if the negotiations drag on for a few more weeks or months … On the Brussels side, there are still a lot of frustrations. . Beijing may make promises, but not much has happened since the last meeting in June: public enterprises are still massively subsidized, which makes them very offensive on the international scene, and the Chinese domestic market. remains closed (particularly in the telecoms and automotive sectors). There is no reciprocity, although the European Union is China’s largest trading partner.

Unsurprisingly, once again the Europeans therefore demanded Monday, September 14, without short-term success, access to the Chinese market, with fair competition rules and better respect for intellectual property. The safeguards are all the more necessary as companies, strongly weakened by the crisis linked to the coronavirus, have become easy prey for foreign groups.

Due to coronavirus, the negotiations – which were to take place in Leipzig – took place by videoconference. Everyone on their screen, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Commission President Ursula von der Layen. Neither was filmed in his personal office, but in a neutral setting, with a nice row of European and Chinese flags on the back. A framework in which it is undoubtedly less easy to advance the discussions … But “we still ‘put the pressure’ on them” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the 27 for six months, said after the meeting.

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Same firmness in the mouth of the President of the Council, Charles Michel: “We made them understand that Europe is an actor and not a playground”. Chinese officials did not release a statement after the meeting.

At the heart of the negotiations, the issue of protected geographical indications (PGI), in the pipes for ten years, finally found a solution on Monday evening with the signing of a definitive agreement. One hundred European PGIs on the one hand, and one hundred Chinese PGIs on the other, are now identified and protected from counterfeiting. This means that in China we will no longer be able to put the “Champagne” label on a bottle of Made in China sparkling wine. And the same measure will also be valid for Languedoc wines, Polish vodka, Greek feta, Portuguese port, mozarella di bufala, queso manchego, etc. On the Chinese side, we can discover bean paste, Anji white tea or Anqiu ginger. In four years, the number of these protected geographical indications will increase to 175.

Knowing that a product that benefits from a geographical indication sells on average twice as much as a similar product without a label, this agreement promises producers higher export earnings, especially since the Chinese middle class , in full expansion, appreciates iconic and authentic European products.

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The Europeans, who are trying to push their pawns on the chessboard of the economy, did not want to give up the field of human rights. Faced with Beijing, they formulated their “concerns” on the fate of human rights defenders and journalists in the country.

“Concerns” focused above all on the large-scale repression that the Chinese authorities are waging against the Muslim Uyghur minority, in the name of the fight against terrorism. On this point they again proposed to send independent observers to Xinjiang. Their first proposal had remained ineffective.

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