BEIJING — Premier Li Keqiang embarked on official visits to Bulgaria and Germany to discuss with leaders of European countries the way forward for deepening cooperation between China and Europe on July 5.
During the week-long trip, the Premier will attend the 7th summit of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) countries and China in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.
He will also co-chair China-Germany intergovernmental consultations with his German counterpart, Angela Merkel, in Berlin.
Observers said that as China is actively opening up its economy to the world, China and Europe have more common ground to enhance cooperation and promote free and open trade.
China put new tariff cuts into effect and shortened its negative list on foreign investments last week, a move that was part of China’s efforts to further open up its economy, as the country marks the 40th anniversary of its reform and opening-up drive.
On July 1, China reduced tariffs on 1,449 taxable consumer goods from an average rate of 15.7 percent to 6.9 percent. The 20-to-25-percent tariffs for cars were cut to 15 percent, and duties on auto parts were lowered to 6 percent from the previous levels of 8 to 25 percent.
It was the fifth round of tariff cuts for consumer goods since 2015.
“Significantly reducing the import tariffs for daily consumer goods is conducive to expanding China’s opening-up and serves as a major measure and action of the country’s initiative to open its market,” the Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council said.
On June 28, China shortened its negative list for foreign investment, with the number of items down to 48 from 63 in the previous version. The new list widens market access for foreign investment in primary, secondary and tertiary sectors, detailing 22 opening-up measures in fields including finance, transportation, professional services, infrastructure, energy, resources and agriculture.
By reducing tariffs and loosening restrictions on various industries, China keeps its promise to foster a more relaxed and orderly environment for entrepreneurs from home and abroad to make investment and start business, which undoubtedly provides more opportunities for cooperation with other countries, including its partners in Europe.
China can do something itself to contribute to maintaining an open international trade system “as it has already done,” such as further opening up the economy and addressing concerns about foreign investment in China, said Bert Hofman, the World Bank’s country director for China, Mongolia and Korea.
In the past six years, China has promoted fruitful cooperation with the 16 CEE countries which are commonly seen as potential growth engines for Europe. Observers said the 16+1 mechanism will inject momentum into the development of the region, which will also boost Europe’s growth.
In recent years, there has been steady growth in economic cooperation and trade between China and CEE countries, with two-way trade reaching $67.98 billion in 2017, up 15.9 percent from the previous year, according to Ministry of Commerce.
Yu Yuantang, deputy head of the European Department of the Ministry of Commerce, said that China’s exports to the 16 CEE countries amounted to $49.49 billion last year, up 13.1 percent from 2016, while China imported $18.49 billion of goods and services from those countries in the same period, up 24 percent.
The two sides have been expanding investments in each other. As of November last year, Chinese investments in CEE countries topped $9 billion, up from $3 billion in 2012, while CEE countries invested $1.4 billion in China.
Guided by previous China-CEE summits, the 16+1 mechanism has developed into an important channel for trans-regional cooperation and an eye-catching platform of open multilateral cooperation, which is widely seen as conducive to collaboration between China and the European Union (EU).
The 16+1 mechanism will help give full play to the complementary advantages of China and CEE countries, said Huang Ping, director of the Institute of European Studies of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and president of China-CEE Institute think tank.
It will also help narrow the gap inside the EU and thus achieve more balanced development in Europe, Huang said.
Backing free trade
Both China and Europe believe that free trade is one of the most powerful engines for growth, while unilateralism and trade protectionism could cause volatility and may even trigger recession in the global economy.
In a phone conversation on July 4, Premier Li Keqiang told European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that China and the EU, as two important forces in the world, should expand cooperation in order to address challenges amid rising unilateralism and protectionism.
Premier Li also said China expects to strive for pragmatic results in advancing China-EU bilateral investment treaty (BIT) negotiations and dealing with climate change so as to jointly uphold multilateralism, promote liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment and safeguard world peace, stability and development.
Juncker said the EU believes multilateralism is the way forward. The EU expects to promote multilateralism and free trade together with China during the upcoming 20th EU-China summit.