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2019-01-10 | All chapters

President Mats Harborn Delivers Opening Speech at the European Chamber Annual Conference

As the European business community joins in the celebration of China’s 40th anniversary of opening up and reform, European Union Chamber of Commerce in China President Mats Harborn delivered a speech at the European Chamber’s Annual Conference commemorating the progress made in the last four decades while also laying bare the challenges on the horizon.

President Harborn examined the progress made over the last year, which, he noted, was a significant acceleration of China’s reform agenda. However, he noted, this more rapid pace has yet to create a market as open and fair as is expected of an economy as developed, dynamic, and competitive as the Chinese one. This ‘reform deficit’ should be the target of the government moving forward, and steps should be taken to align China’s regulatory system with this need.

To that end, the European Chamber is furthering its engagement with the Chinese government to provide European expertise as China modernizes its regulatory mechanisms and deals with the structural challenges remaining from the country’s old economic system. This is all being undertaken under the assumption that China means what it says when it announces reforms that will open up the market and create a level playing field. However, he noted, the impediments to implementation of these reforms are numerous and must be recognised and resolved.

President Harborn raised the example of State Council Document No. 19, released in the summer of 2018, which explicitly prohibits officials at all level of government from using administrative means to force technology transfers from foreign companies in the local market. He asked if we should trust this document as indicative of the direction in which the top leadership wants to take the economy, or if we should discount it as meaningless. If the former, then engagement with the government to identify vested interests that are blocking implementation and resolve them should become a goal of the business community. If the latter, he posed, what is the purpose of negotiating if we assume that our counterparts are doing so in bad faith? President Harborn argued for the former, and called for the business community to follow suit and boost the budgets of corporate government affairs teams to contribute to that engagement.

Ending with a brief discussion on the opportunities in the China market contrasted by the instability of the US-China trade conflict, President Harborn implored those in attendance to reexamine the challenges and opportunities ahead through an objective lens. For that reason, he reiterated the importance of the chamber to always approach its work in a fair and objective way that incorporates a comprehensive viewpoint. This, he argued, is why the publications and government affairs work of the chamber is widely respected in China, Europe and beyond. President Harborn ended his speech by noting that in these uncertain times, proving that engagement bears fruit is critical, making the work of the European Chamber especially important. 


See the summaries of three panels of the annual conference:

Headwinds or Tailwinds? Deepening Reform in the Trade War Era, the first panel, examined the effect that the US-China trade conflict and rising tensions elsewhere are having on China’s economic reform and opening up agenda.

China's Innovation Drive: Top-Down and Bottom-Up, the second panel, explored the comparative value of the competing approaches to innovation in China that are coming from the state-directed and market-driven ends of the spectrum.

Economic Outlook and the Impact for Business, the third panel, brought together top economists to consider the probable macro trends that we can expect to see in 2019 and what that will mean for business, trade conflict, and growth.