The European Chamber Annual Conference 2021 Go back »

2021-12-09 | All chapters

The European Chamber Annual Conference 2021

The European Chamber held its annual conference in Beijing on 9th December, themed ’20 Years of China in the WTO’. As Chamber President Jörg Wuttke said in his opening address, the 20th anniversary of China joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) is very significant to the Chamber, which was created partly to monitor China’s adherence to its commitments. He said he remembered Pascal Lamy, then Commissioner for Trade of the European Commission, saying how he wanted to meet with European business segments in China, not countries – hence the inspiration for the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China.

The first speaker was H.E. Nicolas Chapuis, the ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to China. Ambassador Chapuis mentioned China’s recent trade policy review at the WTO, saying that while the message from China is that it has met all of its commitments of accession, other members made it clear that China needs to not just align to the letter of its commitment but also to the spirit of accession in 2001.

Following the ambassador’s address, President Wuttke introduced Mr Lamy himself as the keynote speaker, who addressed the conference by video from Paris. Mr Lamy, who also served as secretary general of the WTO from 2005 to 2013, said that overall, he felt China had abided by its accession commitments. Mr Lamy acknowledged that the WTO needs to reform in some areas, such as digital trade, but said that China should be involved in the process.

Another major figure in the negotiations on China’s accession was Charlene Barshefsky, who was the US Trade Representative in 2001. She also participated in the Chamber’s Annual Conference on the 20th anniversary in a pre-recorded video interview with President Wuttke. Ms Barshefsky said that the 2007/2008 economic crisis led to such instability in the US that it increased China’s mistrust in that economic model, while the subsequent withdrawal of the US from the global economy helped to cement a system in China that was antithetical to the market-based norm.

The conference also featured two panels, the first of which focussed on ‘20 Years Review: China and the WTO’, covering topics such as China’s implementation of its accession commitments and how China joining the WTO has impacted the global trade system. All panellists agreed that WTO membership was a major factor in both China’s and global economic development, while the arrival of foreign enterprises in the Chinese market led to the improvement of the local regulatory framework and business environment.

The second panel was themed ‘WTO Reform: Revitalising the Multilateral Trading Mechanism’, and looked at the need for changes to the WTO—bearing in mind the challenges to the world's economic landscape due to the rise of unilateralism and protectionism, and the lasting impact of the pandemic—and China’s potential role in this reform. There was a general consensus that the current situation with the WTO was unsustainable – with the dispute court hobbled and the apparent unwillingness of the US to re-engage and amend the system. In addition, rapid technological advancements over the past two decades have transformed trade and economies, meaning that the WTO rulebook does not cover, or is weak on, many aspects of e-commerce and digital services/trade.

To conclude, European Chamber Secretary General Adam Dunnett gave a quick summary of the main points of the speeches and panel discussions. He noted that when European businesses talk about challenges they face in China, they are often the same issues from 20 years ago, such as forced technology transfers, negative lists and inadequate intellectual property protection. SG Dunnett urged businesses to continue to speak up about these challenges through the Chamber’s working groups and Position Paper in order to maintain global attention on such market access barriers.

A more detailed summary will be published in the January/February 2022 issue of EURObiz.