Category Archives: Trade Agreement

08th
May 2017

How Trump is reconnecting Europe with China

China is on a charm offensive in Europe, a move facilitated by U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies and his declarations since taking office. Beijing is eager to find allies willing to stand up for open trade amid fears Trump could undermine it with his protectionist, so-called America First measures. Sensing a low tide in Transatlantic relations, Chinese leaders are reaching out to the European Union — China’s leading trading partner and an important source of investment and technology. Beijing seems willing to set aside differences over bilateral trade and investment in order to draw the Europeans to its side.

In recent months, Beijing has toned down its public campaign to obtain EU recognition of market economy status for China. The case is now being dealt with at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, a move that allows the European Union and China to avoid giving the question too much publicity. If China obtains its coveted prize, it will be more difficult to adopt anti-dumping measures against Chinese companies. Neither the European Union nor the United States has yet recognized China as a market economy, and Western unity on this issue has so far prevailed.

The issue of market economy status marred Sino-European relations throughout 2016 and could have tainted relations this year too, had the election of Trump not changed priorities for Brussels and Beijing. Both stand united against protectionism, and on March 10, the European Council issued a conclusion document underlining that “trade relations with China should be strengthened.”

China-EU-US trade

EU policymakers have accepted Beijing’s request to bump up the annual China-EU summit from its usual July date to June. This is intended to send a unified message President Trump. Brussels and Beijing want to press ahead with economic globalization and free and fair trade in order to better tackle domestic problems. China is rebalancing its economy from one based on exports to one focused on domestic consumption, while the European Union is trying to recover from a long recession. However, it is not only the economic dimension that is bringing China and the European Union closer, but also their support for multilateralism and international organizations — in contrast with Trump’s preference for power-based bilateral relations.

China stands to gain from divisions among Western allies — even at a moment such as this, when there are a number of frictions in Sino-European relations, including the question of growing Chinese investments in the old Continent. A report by the Rhodium Group, a research firm, and the Mercator Institute for China Studies, a think tank in Berlin, found that Chinese direct investment in the European Union surged 76 percent to around €35 billion in 2016. Chinese purchases are growing rapidly in sectors that remain restricted to foreign investors in China, and this inflames debate about growing imbalances between the two sides. Those imbalances draw particular concern from Germany, where Chinese acquisitions soared to 11 billion euros in 2016, surpassing for the first time German mergers and acquisitions in China.

In February, France, Germany, and Italy asked the European Commission to rethink rules on foreign investment in the European Union. This was a message to Beijing to enforce reciprocity in market access, and at a time when the two sides are negotiating a bilateral investment treaty. It is unlikely, however, that a pan-European screening mechanism similar to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States will see light in the near future. Europe is now the top destination of Chinese investments abroad, surpassing the United States. According to the China Global Investment Tracker, a joint project of the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, between 2005 and 2016 China invested nearly $164 billion in Europe. During that same period, it invested $103 billion in the United States.

With negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership in limbo, and the Trump administration’s focus on America First, Europeans feel they have been left alone to deal with an increasingly powerful China. The latter is luring EU members with the prospect of increased investments in their countries. Should President Trump not change course, the European Union and China are bound to get closer, despite their differences.

An earlier and expanded version of this article was published in RealClearWorld

21st
Jul 2016

Asia and Europe inching closer to each other

Cooperation between Asia and Europe in the last 20 years has enhanced the relations of the two continents in all fields, from international trade to global economic recovery, infrastructure and migration. Asia and Europe have signed many bilateral trade agreements and discussions are ongoing on regional deals.

These achievements were in full display at the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit held on 15-16 July 2016 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia where 53 Heads of State and Government – 30 European and 21 Asian countries, as well as the ASEAN Secretariat and the European Union – got together under the overarching theme of ‘20 Years of ASEM: Partnership for the Future through Connectivity’.

Leaders at the ASEM 11 Summit, 15-16 July 2016, Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia). Source: http://www.aseminfoboard.org/events/11th-asem-summit-asem11

Leaders at the ASEM 11 Summit, 15-16 July 2016, Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia). Source: http://www.aseminfoboard.org/events/11th-asem-summit-asem11

The ASEM dialogue process was first launched on 1 March 1996 in Bangkok, Thailand, to enhance relations and various forms of cooperation between the then 15 members of the European Union and its Commission, the then 7 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the individual countries of China, Japan, and South Korea which would form the so-called ASEAN+3 grouping. A series of enlargements saw additional EU members join as well as India, Mongolia, Pakistan, and the ASEAN Secretariat in 2008, Australia, New Zealand and the Russian Federation in 2010, Bangladesh, Norway, and Switzerland in 2012, Croatia and Kazakhstan in 2014.

When the ASEM was inaugurated in 1996, it was conceived as an instrument for bridging the missing link between the EU and East Asia. At the time of the first ASEM in 1996, North America and East Asia had already established an institutional mechanism (the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) for deepening inter-regional cooperation and North America and the EU had further bolstered their transatlantic ties. In this context, it was perceived that there was a glaring missing link as far as relationship between the EU and East Asia was concerned and that the ASEM process would serve to fill this missing link in the triangular relationship: North America-EU-East Asia.

ASEM paramount objective has always been the enhancement of economic relations between the two regions. The ASEM process allows the EU to avoid the risk of being isolated by too close a collaboration among the Asia-Pacific countries while also giving East Asia the opportunity to counterbalance US presence by opening up to Europe.

Europe’s economic presence in Asia is felt particularly in the areas of trade and monetary policy. For instance, Brussels is Beijing’s most important commercial partner—the two trade more than one billion euros a day. The EU is ASEAN’s third-largest trading partner, after China and Japan, but ahead of the United States. Overall, Asian markets are the destination for almost one third of EU exports and offer rapidly expanding market opportunities for European firms, which are also among the biggest contributors of FDIs in the region

Following the surge of trade relations, Asia has become the largest buyer of euro-denominated assets. The share of euros in the foreign exchange portfolio of Asia’s major central banks’ accounts is, on average, for around 25-27 percent of the holdings of Asia’s major economies, reaching 30% and above in China (the world’s largest holder). This makes the euro the second-most-important reserve currency in Asia – after the dollar, but ahead of the yen.

Europe’s economic rebalance toward Asia is rooted, as in the case of the United States, in the realisation that Asia has become central to global prosperity and to the Western powers’ own growth prospects. Since 2011, the EU has signed free-trade agreements with South Korea and Singapore; it is negotiating one with Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand; and has opened discussion on a trade and investment agreement with the whole of ASEAN.

At the last ASEM summit, leaders from the two regions explored plans for an inter-regional investment and trade agreement that would counterbalance the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Such dynamics deserve to be followed closely by European and Asian companies for the potential that they could have for trade, investment and jobs creation on the Eurasian continent.

More on this in the interview to Dr. Casarini by Xinhua News.

28th
Nov 2014

Western competition for Asian markets is heating up

President Obama used his recent trip to Asia to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade agreement that includes twelve nations total, but excludes China. The TPP is the economic centerpiece of the U.S. rebalance to Asia, and China is responding to it by promoting the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a mega-regional trade agreement that includes ASEAN, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, but excludes the United States. Beijing is also pressing forward a free-trade agreement for the whole Asia-Pacific—the FTAAP—as a way to dilute the TPP and ensure that Beijing continues to get preferential access to some of its most important trading partners.

Yet, China is not the only one trying to create an alternative to the TPP. The European Union (EU) is pushing forward its own economic rebalance toward Asia—a move that challenges U.S. initiatives and provides Asian countries, including China, with more leverage over trade negotiations with the United States.

Source: www.debatingeurope.eu

Source: www.debatingeurope.eu

Europe’s economic presence in Asia is felt particularly in the areas of trade and monetary policy. For instance, Brussels is Beijing’s most important commercial partner—the two trade more than one billion euros a day. The EU is ASEAN’s third-largest trading partner, after China and Japan, but ahead of the United States. Overall, Asian markets are the destination for almost one third of EU exports and offer rapidly expanding market opportunities for European firms, which are also among the biggest contributors of FDIs in the region. In the case of ASEAN, Europe is by far the largest investor. EU companies have invested an average of 13.6 billion euros annually in the region in the last decade.

Following the surge of trade relations, Asia has become the largest buyer of euro-denominated assets. The share of euros in the foreign exchange portfolio of Asia’s major central banks’ accounts is, on average, for around 25-27 percent of the holdings of Asia’s major economies, reaching 30 percent and above in China (the world’s largest holder). This makes the euro the second-most-important reserve currency in Asia—after the dollar, but ahead of the yen.

Europe’s economic rebalance toward Asia is rooted—as in the case of the United States—in the realization that Asia has become central to global prosperity and to the Western powers’ own growth prospects. Since 2011, the EU has signed free-trade agreements with South Korea and Singapore; it is negotiating one with Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand; and has opened discussion on a trade and investment agreement with the whole of ASEAN.

China and the EU are currently negotiating a bilateral investment treaty that, if successful, could pave the way for a bilateral free-trade agreement. At the last summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM)—an inter-regional dialogue forum between European and Asian leaders—held in Milan in October, Matteo Renzi, Italy’s prime minister, expressed support for the opening of negotiations on an FTA with China. While some European leaders such as David Cameron, the British prime minister, have already declared their support for an EU-China FTA, the position of Italy—currently holding the presidency of the EU Council—is somehow surprising, given that the country’s small and medium enterprises have been particularly hit by Chinese competition in the last decade. Yet, sluggish growth in many Eurozone countries and growing Chinese investments in Europe are playing in favor of an early adoption of an EU-China deal.

The EU does not have troops or binding military alliances in Asia, making it easier for Brussels to engage the region without the security and strategic considerations that beleaguer the United States. While politically the EU’s presence in Asia is broadly complementary to that of the United States, economically the transatlantic allies are competitors. As Western competition for Asian markets is heating up, companies should devote the right amount of time and resources to understand the implications of these dynamics for their business.

A longer version of this article was originally published in The National Interest.

21st
Oct 2014

Prepare for a EU-East Asia trade and investment agreement

The 10th summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) took place in Milan, Italy, on 16-17 October 2014. Amid concerns for the Eurozone’s economy and China’s sluggish growth, the summit provided an opportunity for the two sides to explore the prospect for a trade and investment agreement, something that would complement the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on the one hand, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on the other.

Today, the ASEM process brings together 53 participants: 31 from Europe, and 22 from Asia. On the European side, there are the 28 EU member states, 2 European countries (Switzerland and Norway), and the European Commission. On the Asian side, there are the 10 members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, the ASEAN Secretariat, three North East Asian countries (China, Japan and South Korea), three South Asian countries (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), plus Kazakhstan, Russia, Australia and New Zealand. The ASEM countries account today for around 60% of the world’s population, half of global GDP and more than 60% of international trade.

world map

Image source: Wikipedia

This success in terms of membership is also ASEM’s major limitation. It appears, in fact, more and more difficult to reconcile the priorities, including the national agendas, of so many and diverse countries. Thus, off the record some of the founding members of ASEM – the EU and the ASEAN grouping plus China, Japan and South Korea – have aired plans for a trade and investment agreement that would complement the TPP and TTIP. In so doing, the ASEM process would renew with the spirit of its founding principles.

When the ASEM summit was first inaugurated in 1996 in Bangkok, Thailand, 26 participants took part: on the European side, the 15 member states of the EU and the European Commission; on the Asian side, the 7 members of ASEAN plus China, Japan and South Korea – the so-called ASEAN+3. The first Asia-Europe meeting achieved two objectives: it created a counterbalance to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC); and gave impetus to integration dynamics in East Asia. It was, in fact, in the context of ASEM that consultations between ASEAN and the region’s three largest economies (China, Japan and South Korea) led to the subsequent creation of the ASEAN+3. This ‘only-for-Asians’ grouping had been vigorously opposed by the US for fear of losing influence over regional dynamics.

Today, East Asian nations have the possibility to gain leverage over TPP negotiations by opening up to European business interests. At the same time, a trade and investment accord with the ASEAN+3 grouping would allow the EU to bring under a single framework those FTAs that it has already signed with South Korea and Singapore; those under negotiation with Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand; and the bilateral investment agreements currently under discussion with China and ASEAN – which are meant to lay the ground for a comprehensive FTA. It may take some time before official negotiations for a comprehensive EU-East Asia trade and investment agreement are launched. Yet, companies should start preparing now to reap the benefits of such a grand initiative.