The Jakarta Post | 7 May 2021
EU-China investment deal ’not exactly a deal’
A long-negotiated investment agreement between EU and China was more of an "intention than a deal and it could be a long time before it became a reality, an EU commissioner said Thursday.
"I will be very honest with you, this deal was not exactly a deal," Thierry Breton, France’s representative to the EU executive told the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.
"At the end of the day... it was an intention... not more, not less," said the former French finance minister, who is the EU’s industry commissioner.
"So I think that the time when the intention will transform into reality may be pretty long," he added.
He also noted that the deal, sealed to the surprise of many during the last hours of Germany EU presidency in December, came during an "interim time in the US" between the Trump and Biden presidencies.
The investment pact was announced shortly before the new US President Joe Biden took office and started unwinding many of his predecessor’s "America First" policies.
But the deal is now far from certain.
Breton spoke after the EU commission admitted that it was forced to suspend efforts to ratify the pact after a volley of tit-for-tat sanctions between Beijing and Brussels.
The dispute escalated suddenly in March when the EU imposed sanctions on four party and Xinjiang regional officials because of their actions against the Uyghur Muslim minority.
Beijing swiftly hit back with punitive measures on European politicians and academics — including key MEPs who would need to back the pact to get it ratified. Joerg Wuttke, head of the EU chamber of commerce in Beijing, told reporters on Friday: "The Comprehensive Agreement on Investment is, I think, not going to take place for a long time."
He noted that it is easier to impose than lift sanctions, and said there appears to be little political space for leaders on both sides to give way. "It’s a pity, we like the agreement," he said.
Companies also face a politically-charged environment in China, with Swedish clothing giant H&M drawing backlash in March over an earlier decision not to source cotton from the northwestern Xinjiang region — which faces accusations of forced labour and rights violations.
"We feel like we’re between a rock and a hard place, and it’s difficult for us to manoeuvre in this situation," said Wuttke.
But EU Chamber representatives added Friday that political tensions globally have been coupled with a "charm offensive" in China, noting they still receive support from officials.
The EU commission handles trade policy for the bloc’s 27 member states and the pact with China was seven years in the making.