By Dominique Patton
BEIJING (Reuters) - China and France agreed on Friday to support free and fair trade, and for the first time pledged "reciprocal" treatment in their trade relations, they said after ministerial economic talks.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said progress had been made in the food, aerospace, nuclear and finance sectors, while China recognised that government subsidies can lead to overcapacity in the steel sector.
"We discussed (reciprocity) for a long time, and I think we managed to make China see the importance of this notion and its importance in commercial ties", Le Maire told a news conference in Beijing, adding that it was the first time the term was included in a statement after the meetings.
The two sides said they "reiterate their support for free and fair trade, based on principles of reciprocal and mutual benefits and non-discrimination", according to the joint statement after the China-France High-Level Economic and Financial Dialogue in Beijing.
China this year has pledged to further open its economy to foreign firms as it looks to kickstart new growth areas and amid complaints from foreign businesses about market access, with the idea of reciprocity of benefits becoming a focus of trade discussions.
"Protectionism develops when there is no fair trade and no rules of reciprocity. That's why France insists on global commerce being based on rules of reciprocity," Le Maire said.
Chinese vice finance minister Shi Yaobin said reciprocity was a relative concept, not an absolute.
"Different countries have different levels of development, so in the process of opening up, achieving absolute reciprocity ... can't be achieved. In the whole world it doesn't exist," Shi told reporters.
Chinese vice premier Ma Kai made similar comments in opening remarks, noting that the Chinese economy was developing in a stable way but developed and emerging economies had differences.
He also said that protectionism and terrorism were uncertainties for the recovery of the global economy.
The two sides said they would work to eliminate trade distortions, increase communication on trade barriers, and increase trade in the tech-tech sector, according to the statement.
China, the world's top consumer of pork, is set to approve more imports of French pork, processed meat and infant formula after passing inspections, Le Maire said.
"In the sectors of infant formula, pork, and charcuterie products, the publication of audit results that we were waiting for will allow us to export more easily these products as well as beef," Le Maire said.
The two sides will encourage Chinese and French firms to issue yuan bonds in both countries, while China agreed to increase France's Renminbi Foreign Institutional Investor quota at an appropriate time, they said in their joint statement.
China recently pledged wider access to its massive financial services sector by raising the limit on foreign ownership in banks, securities and insurance firms, though some of the changes will not take effect for several years.
"We would always like things to go faster, but the key thing is the direction, and the direction that came out of this dialogue is the right one," said Le Maire.
(Reporting by Dominique Patton; Writing by Elias Glenn; Editing by Robert Birsel)