BEIJING (Reuters) – There is no “promise fatigue” about China’s efforts to open its economy to foreign businesses, the government said on Monday on the eve of week-long import fair, after the European Union said China needed to make rapid and substantial improvements.
The EU, China’s largest trading partner, said last week ahead of the Shanghai fair that there was a risk of “promise fatigue”, urging China to show “more ambition and genuine effort towards rebalancing and a level playing field”.
China has long been dogged by accusations of unfair trade practices, from forced tech transfers to protectionist market entry policies. It has been criticised for making promises to open its market and not delivering on them.
Speaking at a daily news briefing, foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, said China was pleased to note the EU’s statement mentioned how European companies’ sales had benefited from the fair last year, the first of its kind in the country.
European firms would be well-represented this year, too, and were sure to come away well satisfied, Geng said.
When it came to commitment to reform and opening up, China has always stuck to its word, he said.
“So the European side can rest easy. China will spare no effort in fulfilling its promises and commitments. There is no so-called fatigue issue.”
The fair begins on Tuesday with a speech by President Xi Jinping. French President Emmanuel Macron and the EU’s incoming trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, are both attending.
While Brussels and Washington have common complaints about problems their companies face in China, the EU has not resorted punitive tariff measures as the United States has done.
Concerned by potential Chinese dominance of strategic European industries, the EU is trying to coax Beijing to open up its markets and has tried to get it to commit to removing what Brussels sees as unfair barriers to trade.
Some European companies felt cheated at last year’s inaugural expo, according to a survey by the Shanghai chapter of the European Chamber of Commerce in China, released on Monday.
Many of the deals made last year were not later realised, according to the survey, with one respondent describing theirs as a symbolic agreement.
More than half the companies surveyed said they would not attend this year.
One respondent said last year’s expo fully lived up to their expectations – but only by being “awful” in both organisation and results.
“We expect this year’s event to be supplemented by concrete measures to facilitate further market opening and increase foreign investment, not by empty promises,” said Carlo D’Andrea, vice president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, in a statement accompanying the survey.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Tom Hogue, Robert Birsel)