Europe seeks deeper agri­cul­tural ties

EU com­mis­sioner leads del­e­ga­tion to China to pro­mote the trad­ing bloc’s farm prod­ucts

China Daily European Weekly - - News Digest - By LIU JIA in Brus­sels jialiu.chi­nadaily@gmail.com

The European Union sees the bloc’s re­la­tion­ship with China as pre­cious, healthy and full of po­ten­tial, ac­cord­ing to Phil Ho­gan, the EU com­mis­sioner for agri­cul­ture and ru­ral de­vel­op­ment.

Ho­gan be­gan a six-day trip to Shang­hai and Shen­zhen on May 14.

Ac­com­pa­nied by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of 71 or­ga­ni­za­tions and com­pa­nies from the European agri-food sec­tor, he said the del­e­ga­tion was the largest since he was ap­pointed EU com­mis­sioner in 2014.

“This re­flects the im­por­tance of the Chi­nese mar­ket and the strong de­sire of many European com­pa­nies to build stronger busi­ness and trade re­la­tion­ships with their Chi­nese coun­ter­parts for their mu­tual ben­e­fit,” he said.

The main pur­pose of the trip was to fa­cil­i­tate ex­change and agree­ments be­tween European and Chi­nese busi­nesses, while build­ing on ex­ist­ing trade.

Ho­gan and the del­e­gates par­tic­i­pated in the open­ing of SIAL China — Asia’s largest food and bev­er­age innovation ex­hi­bi­tion — in Shang­hai on May 16. The EU and 25 of its mem­ber na­tions oc­cu­pied more than 6,000 square me­ters of ex­hi­bi­tion space at the event, which runs un­til May 19.

Last month in Boao, Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping un­veiled a se­ries of mea­sures to fur­ther open up China’s econ­omy, in­clud­ing in­creas­ing im­ports and low­er­ing tar­iffs.

“This ini­tia­tive pro­posed by Pres­i­dent Xi sends out all the right sig­nals to global part­ners, and in­di­cates that China is open for busi­ness,” Ho­gan said. As well as ben­e­fit­ing coun­tries that ex­port to China, open­ing up would also equally ben­e­fit China it­self be­cause it would lead to in­creased in­vest­ment and op­por­tu­ni­ties for Chi­nese busi­nesses.

European Com­mis­sion statis­tics show that China was the sec­ond-largest im­porter of EU agri­cul­tural prod­ucts in 2016, ac­count­ing for 8.7 per­cent of all EU agri­cul­tural ex­ports.

The two-way flow of goods was val­ued at 17.4 bil­lion eu­ros ($21 bil­lion; £15.2 bil­lion) in 2017, a spec­tac­u­lar in­crease over the last 10 years.

“China is our sec­ond-largest trade part­ner, both in terms of trade of agri­food prod­ucts and to­tal trade of goods,” Ho­gan said. “And we be­lieve there is great po­ten­tial to do much more.”

Dur­ing the mission, Ho­gan and European rep­re­sen­ta­tives were due to dis­cuss sub­jects in­clud­ing European meat and Chi­nese tea with their Chi­nese coun­ter­parts.

Rafael Jemenez, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment ad­viser at the EU SME Cen­tre, which sup­ports small and medi­um­sized en­ter­prises with the aim of ac­cess­ing the Chi­nese mar­ket, said the mission was “very down to earth”.

From his per­spec­tive, such busi­ness vis­its played a pos­i­tive role in equip­ping European busi­nesses with first­hand in­for­ma­tion, like trends and op­por­tu­ni­ties in China.

“It is paramount for stake­hold­ers to up­grade their knowl­edge on Chi­nese mar­ket con­tin­u­ously,” he said.

The visit came amid re­cent trade ten­sions be­tween the United States and China, the world’s two big­gest economies and the two largest trad­ing part­ners of the EU.

In April, China took counter mea­sures to place ad­di­tional tar­iffs on soy­beans, pork and some other US agri­cul­tural goods.

Soar­ing costs due to ex­tra du­ties could prompt Chi­nese im­porters to seek al­ter­na­tive sources in EU mem­ber states, as some ob­servers have warned.

The EU is cur­rently the top pork sup­plier to China, with a mar­ket share of up to 60 per­cent of the to­tal Chi­nese pork prod­uct im­ports.

De­spite po­ten­tial de­mand as a re­sult of the trade spat, European busi­nesses want the US and China to set­tle the dis­pute through ne­go­ti­a­tion.

“The EU re­mains fully com­mit­ted to the prin­ci­ple of free, fair and in­clu­sive trade with our global part­ners and we are pleased to see that Pres­i­dent Xi is on the same page,” Ho­gan said.

Dirk Ne­len, CEO of No­ord­vlees Van Gool, the largest meat sup­plier in Bel­gium, was a del­e­gate who trav­eled with the com­mis­sioner to SIAL and the EU-China Meat Fo­rum, fo­cus­ing on food safety and qual­ity.

“In the case of our com­pany, we are more than ca­pa­ble and ready to sup­ply more pork prod­ucts to our Chi­nese clients when­ever needed to fill in a pos­si­ble void left by other sup­pli­ers,” Ne­len said.

“How­ever, our phi­los­o­phy is not to com­pete on price but qual­ity, spe­cial­ity and ser­vices. In other words, we win over mar­kets not by the price clients pay, but by the value clients get.”

Jemenez said, “The EU looks into China with a long-term per­spec­tive, not tac­ti­cal.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Phil Ho­gan, European Union com­mis­sioner for agri­cul­ture and ru­ral de­vel­op­ment, speaks at a tast­ing event in the pav­il­ion of the European Union, the Re­gion of Hon­our, at the SIAL China ex­hi­bi­tion in Shang­hai.

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