Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan (L) shakes hands with European Union Commissioner for Trade Catherine Ashton prior to the Second China-EU High Level Economic and Trade Dialog at the EU headquarters in Brussels, capital of Belgium, May 7, 2009. (Xinhua/Wu Wei)
The European Union (EU) and China should work together to ward off potential surge of protectionism amid the global economic slump, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan said on Thursday.
"China and the EU should stand firm against any form of protectionism for the sake of a global economic recovery," Wang said in an opening remark at a high-level economic and trade dialogue between the EU and China, two major trading powers in the world.
The EU is now China's largest trading partner, while China is the second largest of the EU. Trade volume between them grew to 425.58 billion U.S. dollars in 2008, an increase of 19.5 percent over the previous year despite the impact of the financial crisis, according to figures from China's customs authorities.
Wang said the two sides have every reason to avoid protectionism, either for the urgent need to work out of the current crisis or due to the irreversible trend of globalization.
He warned that protectionism, featuring the pursuit of benefits for one country at the expense of others, would in the end protect nobody, but lead to retaliation and make the crisis even worse, which has been proved by the history.
Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan (C), Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deming (L) and Minister of Finance Xie Xuren attend the Second China-European Union High Level Economic and Trade Dialog at the EU headquarters in Brussels, capital of Belgium, May 7, 2009. (Xinhua/Wu Wei)
The world economy paid a heavy price for the prevalence of trade protectionism during the Great Depression in the 1930s, which resulted in the contraction of global trade by two thirds.
As the world economy plunged into its first-ever recession since the Second World War in the wake of the financial crisis, there is an increasing risk that more governments would resort to protectionist measures.
For the EU, there has been more frequent use of anti-dumping measures against Chinese products, which is a major concern of the Chinese side.
Wang urged the EU to take full account of China's concern and make real efforts to remove trade and investment barriers, adding the economies of China and the EU have much to offer each other and the two-way trade holds a huge potential.
Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan speaks during the Second China-European Union High Level Economic and Trade Dialog at the EU headquarters in Brussels, capital of Belgium, May 7, 2009. (Xinhua Photo)
He in particular called on the EU to relax restrictions on the transfer of advanced green technology to China so as to promote sustainable development.
"The EU has an edge in new energy, energy-efficient building and waste recycling. There is a vast market in China for those green investments," Wang said.
For the Chinese part, Wang said China will continue to send buying missions to Europe and encourage Chinese companies to increase procurement and imports from the continent as a concrete move to boost trade with the EU in the difficult times.
In February, a big delegation of Chinese companies visited Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Britain. They struck 13.6-billion-dollar deals with their European counterparts.
EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton, who co-chaired the two-day dialogue with Wang, said the 27-nation bloc would remain committed to free trade.
"We stand by our commitments to free trade and resist call of protectionism," Ashton said, adding everyone would benefit from further opening up.
Ashton said the EU and China, as two key players in the world economy, should work together to meet global challenges, including a global free trade agenda.
"What we do have an impact on the global economy. We have common interest to maintain openness, especially moving forward the Doha Round of world trade talks," she said.
Her view was echoed by Wang, who called for joint efforts with the EU to help the world economy recover.
"The urgent task now is to take decisive measures to kick-start the world economy," Wang said. "The EU is the world's largest economy, while China is the largest developing country. The economic and financial situation in the EU and China has a direct impact on the world economic recovery and financial stability."
The high-level economic and trade dialogue, which is held annually between the EU and China, kicked off in Brussels on Thursday. The two-dialogue brought together key policy makers from both sides, including Wang and EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton.
A further eight EU Commissioners and a total of 12 Chinese ministers or vice-ministers are participating in the far-reaching talks, which cover a series of topics, such as trade, investment, small and medium-sized companies, customs cooperation, sustainable development, product safety and intellectual property rights.
It is the second time that the EU and China hold the high-level economic and trade dialogue, which was agreed at a Sino-EU summit in November 2007. The first meeting was held in Beijing in April 2008.