As one of the final acts of 2020, on 30 December, the EU and China concluded in principle the negotiations for a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI). In addition to finalising the text of this agreement, one of the most important final steps is getting the approval from the European Parliament. Those in favour of the agreement would highlight China’s commitment to a greater level of market access for EU investors, and fair treatment in relation to state owned enterprises. Further pros are the ambitious provisions made by China on sustainable development, and on commitments on forced labour and ratification of key ILO conventions.
Yet several stakeholders have underlined the fact that there is no clear timeline for China to ratify these conventions, or to put an end to the use of forced labour, particularly within the Uighur Muslim community. Many also point to China’s ongoing crackdown against pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, and to the different ways in which this investment deal might poison future relations with the up-coming Biden Presidency in the USA.
Has the EU forsaken its international role as standard bearer for the protection of human rights and environmental standards, simply to provide access to some European investors and companies to China’s growing 1.4 billion consumer market? Or can this investment deal be a small step towards securing small victories in terms of the ratification of the ILO conventions against forced labour, and the ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change? Should the EU have asked for more assurances from China or wait for the Biden Administration to create a common transatlantic strategy to counter China’s aggressive international behaviour?
Hans Van Baalen, President, ALDE Party
Marie-Pierre Vedrenne, MEP, Renew Europe
Andrew Small, Associate Senior Policy Fellow, ECFR, and Senior Transatlantic Fellow, Asia Program, GMF
Beatriz Ríos, EU Affairs reporter
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