The EU and China: 40 years and still going strong

Cover imageThis year is very significant for EU-China bilateral relations as it has been 40 years since their establishment on 6th May, 1975.

This occasion presents the perfect opportunity to take a walk down memory lane and reflect on some of the key events that have taken place along the way. Though the Chamber has only been around for 15 years, many of the nearly 1,800 companies we represent have been in China for several decades.

Back in 1975, the EU consisted of only nine member states and did not yet have the power to negotiate trade matters on their behalf, and China had not yet started out on its game-changing path of reform and opening-up that Deng Xiaoping kick-started three years later. Fast forward to the present and things have changed dramatically as both the EU and China have grown together.

Over these four decades, bilateral trade has been one the most important drivers of the EU-China relationship and it has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1978. That year, when the first bilateral trade agreement was signed, our trade volume was only a little over EUR 2 billion per year. Today, the EU-China trade relationship is the second biggest in the world and our two economic blocs trade goods and services worth well over EUR 1 billion per day.

Our closer trade integration and harmonisation over the decades that followed has helped to guarantee a shared prosperity between China and the EU’s Member States. The subsequent bilateral treaties the EU and China signed since China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2001 are important here. As Commissioner Federica Mogherini stated, “From the establishment of our Strategic Partnership back in 2003, our trade exchanges have more than quadrupled.” This was followed by the establishment of the High Level Economic and Trade Dialogue in 2009 and the High Level Strategic Dialogue in 2010, both of which further improved and intensified EU-China cooperation.

Admittedly, as in any relationship between two strong, assertive partners, there have been periods of friction, but also many instances when we saw what can be achieved through mutual resolve and amicable dialogue: what springs to mind here are the recent resolutions to the wine and photovoltaic trade cases.

Currently, our bilateral relations revolve around three so-called ‘pillars’: a political dialogue, an economic and sectoral dialogue and a people-to-people dialogue. These are governed by the EU-China Strategic 2020 Agenda for Cooperation that was agreed during the 16th EU-China Summit, held in Beijing in November 2013. Running concurrently was the EU-China Business Summit, co-hosted by the European Chamber and attended by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and then European Commission President Manuel Barroso.

During this momentous event both sides also announced the launch of negotiations for an EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI). This will simplify the investment relations between individual EU Member States and China by consolidating the 27 existing Bilateral Investment Treaties into one agreement that would be—as the EU envisages it—“comprehensive and ambitious”. One of the articles in this edition of EURObiz looks at how the EU and China are looking to “unleash the untapped potential of their relationship for mutual benefit” – the CAI is arguably the best opportunity to do so.

The European Chamber has very much welcomed the CAI negotiations and we have undertaken a great deal of advocacy directed at both sides. It is our hope that the negotiations will be concluded swiftly and that the agreement will include an Investor-State Dispute Settlement Mechanism as well as a dedicated chapter on small and medium-sized enterprises – we placed particular emphasis on this latter point during our European Tour to Brussels in January earlier this year. We will soon be going to Brussels again to attend the next EU-China Summit, taking place at the end of June. European Chamber representatives will once again be ensuring that the voice of European business invested in China is clearly heard.

The European Chamber is proud of how far the EU and China have come together and we are honoured to have been the representative voice of EU companies over the past decade and a half. Although there is still much work to be done, now is a good time for us to pause momentarily and celebrate the friendship and good fortune of this great relationship and to look forward to a bright future together.

electronic signature of Mr Wuttke





Jörg Wuttke
President of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China