Trade Secretary Liz Truss urges EU to join UK and US in 'challenging China to play fair'

Fri 19 Feb 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

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Trade Secretary Liz Truss has urged the EU to join the UK and US in taking a tougher stance on China in a meeting with EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis in Brussels today (19 February).

Truss wants the UK to act as the lynchpin in a three-way alliance with the US and EU that will force China to act more responsibly, cracking down on Beijing’s unfair subsidies regime, the Sun reports.  

Shared priorities

Whitehall sources said her trip to Brussels was set up to get agreement on “challenging China to play fair and clean up its act”.

The meeting saw them discuss shared global trade priorities, including “reform of the #WTO inc industrial subsidies and green trade”, she tweeted.

EU-China relations

The EU signed an investment agreement with China at the end of December, which some of its own members criticised as “a rushed deal that's too soft on labour rights”, according to Politico.

The deal came shortly after China overtook the US as the EU’s largest trading partner last year.

China’s trade volume in goods with the 27-member EU, reached €586 billion in 2020, according to SCMP.

There was an increase of imports (5.6%) and exports (2.2%), while trade with the US dropped in both imports (-13.2%) and exports (-8.2%).

Britain and China

According to UK government figures for trade in 2019, British exports to China were worth £30.7 billion; imports from China were £49.0 billion. China was the UK’s sixth largest export market and fourth largest source of imports. 

However, UK-China relations were strained during the Trump presidency when the UK was seen to side with the US on range of issues including the barring of Huawei from UK telecoms contracts.

Thawing relations

However, a survey by the China Chamber of Commerce UK (CCCUK) – reported in the Telegraph – shows signs that UK-China relations are thawing.

More than 80% of Chinese firms in the UK want to grow their existing operations, the poll found.

In 2019 the UK was Europe’s second largest recipient of Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) by volume, and topped the list for the number of transactions, according to a report by Rhodium Group and the Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Public attitudes

A new study of public opinion by the British Foreign Policy Group reveals the UK’s attitudes to the world’s major economies are changing

Concerns about the risk posed by China’s rise have increased 11% in the past year during the pandemic.

The survey found:

  • Only 8% of Brits believe the Indo-Pacific should be the centre of British foreign policy 
  • 37% expressed doubts about pivoting to Asia 
  • 41% viewed China as a critical threat to Britain 
  • Half of Brits said the EU was the UK’s most important relationship – twice as many as the US 
  • 47% say they trust the US to act responsibly 
  • 88% view Canada as the most responsible global actor