World / Europe

Britain to take lead in promoting EU-China trade talks

By Cecily Liu ( Updated: 2016-03-04 20:26


Britain to take lead in promoting EU-China trade talks

Minister Gao Hucheng (R)  meets with UK Business Secretary Sajid Javid. [Photo/]

UK agreed to take lead to push the European Union to start free trade talks with China, a step seen as vital by analysts, following as it does London's early support for Beijing's Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank initiative.

Sajid Javid, British Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, recently met Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng and told him "the UK is willing to play active role within start a feasibility study of EU-China free trade zone as soon as possible," according to a British statement.

China Daily has learned that Gao also urged the UK to play such a role when the two ministers held closed-door bilateral trade talks on February 26.

They agreed to help speed up bilateral investment talks between Beijing and Brussels, while EU is still reviewing whether to give China market economy status at the end of this year.

Experts in China and Europe hailed the UK's positive stance in becoming the best partner of China in the West, and now expect China and the EU to kick off the long-awaited feasibility study of a bilateral free trade zone, which would cover 1.8 billion consumers, at this year's bilateral summit. But the date is still unknown.

"There are tremendous business and investment opportunities that can be reached between China and the EU through the establishment of bilateral investment agreement and free trade zones, and in this process British businesses would also benefit tremendously," said Alan Barrell, Entrepreneur in Residence at the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning within the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge.

"The UK is able to help China on these agendas because it has significant influence in the EU, and because China and the UK already have a strong trade and investment relationship, British firms with expertise in working with China can be a part of the China-EU trade and investment relationship, and the UK can become a gateway for China into the EU," Barrell said.

The UK's support for China on its increasing trade with the EU came after it voiced its strong support for the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank which China proposed in 2015. Britain was the first western power to become a partner.

Chi Fulin, president of China Institute of Reform and Development, said the agreement by the UK and Chinese leaders is a "very positive sign", and "is one of the concrete actions the UK has taken to implement its commitment to become China's best friend in the West, after taking actions to support the AIIB".

Chi said he has high hopes that the EU will respond to the UK and China's efforts and take discussions forward, and that he believes the feasibility study into the free trade zones can start when the EU-China summit takes place this year.

"The EU-China investment agreement is a very important step to further enhance China and EU trade within the framework of China's One Belt One Road vision, and will bring great benefits to markets encompassing 2 billion people," Chi said.

The meeting between Gao and Javid took place on February 26. Javid said that the UK is keen to actively participate in China's OBOR proposal, and welcomed Chinese companies to participate in UK's regional development.

He said the UK is the most open country in Europe for foreign investment, and it is China's best friend in Europe, so it is happy to use its influence in the EU to push forward China's trade and investment cooperation with the EU. 

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