China–EU investment talks: Negotiators debate new market access offers, eyeing 2020 outcome

The talks between China and the EU for a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment saw an important milestone in December 2019, as the two sides exchanged new market access offers. They had exchanged market access offers once previously, in July 2018.

The exchange took place during the 25th negotiating round, which also featured discussions involving the treatment of state-owned enterprises, state–state dispute settlement, sustainable development, transparency and other topics.

Another negotiating round was held in mid-January 2020 to examine the offers in further depth, with a 27th round slated for early March 2020 in Beijing.

While the results of the latest round are not yet publicly known, EU officials have already indicated that they would like to see revisions in the latest market access offer from their Beijing counterparts.

“While many European companies invest in China and benefit from its vast domestic market, I am well aware of the many challenges they face in terms of access and predictability,” said EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan on January 20, 2020, during an event devoted to the China–EU relationship.

Citing desired improvements in market access for European investors in China, Hogan reiterated that Brussels is still hoping to wrap up the talks with Beijing this year, so long as the deal is sufficiently ambitious. The 2020 target was announced during a leaders’ summit in Belgium last April.

Hogan also suggested that greater market opening would be needed than what is currently on offer.

“Meeting halfway will not work for the EU, as our market is largely open. We expect an effort towards rebalancing this asymmetry,” he said at the time, calling for similar levels of improvement in ensuring there is an equal “playing field” in China for European investors when it comes to the legal and regulatory frameworks in place.

Some China-based experts, however, have said that these requests may prove difficult to meet and warned that it could further hurt the pace of the negotiations. Talks on a China–EU investment agreement have been formally underway for over six years, having launched in 2013.