The EU business lobby in China has dismissed President Xi Jinping’s latest market-opening pledge as a rehash of earlier unkept promises, saying European companies had become ‘desensitised’ to Chinese vows.
Xi vowed at the opening of a new import fair in Shanghai on Monday that China had a ‘sincere commitment’ to open its markets, despite foreign accusations that it was dragging its feet or backsliding amid calls to remove barriers to market access.
The Chinese leader announced steps would be taken in several areas but the EU chamber said in a strongly worded statement that much of what Xi promised was a reiteration of past statements.
‘This constant repetition, without sufficient concrete measures or timelines being introduced, has left the European business community increasingly desensitised to these kinds of promises,’ it said in a statement late Monday.
The chamber said  expectations for Xi’s speech opening the China International Import Expo had been ‘continuously stoked’ by the Chinese government.
‘With this in mind, European businesses think that the commitments made… do not go as far as is necessary.’
Xi said China would ‘step up’ efforts to stimulate imports, lower tariffs, ease customs clearance procedures, and implement harsh punishments for intellectual property infringements, among other things.
But he was light on specifics and provided no timelines.
The chamber noted that Xi briefly mentioned removing caps on foreign investment in education and medical services, and support for accelerating negotiations on an EU-China investment agreement, calling them ‘potentially significant’.
‘That said, European business had higher hopes for what had been marketed by the Chinese government as a milestone event,’ chamber vice president Carlo D’Andrea said.
‘What matters to us is that concrete actions are forthcoming and that reforms are clearly timetabled. If China really will continue to open up, we would have expected additional and specific commitments to have been announced by President Xi.’
Beijing has touted the week-long expo as a important signal of its willingness to open markets, as it grapples with Washington in a trade war in which both sides have imposed punitive tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods.
In a speech at Davos nearly two years ago, Xi presented China as a beacon of globalisation, in a counterpoint to Trump, but critics say he has yet to deliver on such promises.
Foreign businesses complain about a range of policies that benefit local firms, requirements that foreign companies form joint ventures with Chinese partners, forced technology transfers, rampant intellectual property violations and restrictive red tape.