At the Shanghai fair, Macron-Xi talks unveil a EU competing narrative to the US on trade with China

Written by: Federica Santoro*

During the second China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, French President Emmanuel Macron called on China to “consolidate” the opening up of the Chinese market. “Much has been done in recent years – said Macron pointing out China’s willingness to deal with free trade in a fairer manner – important tariff reductions have been granted. We call for their consolidation and deepening”.

Among other participants, Phil Hogan, the German EU trade commissioner, has sought to compel China to grant a more transparent access to foreign companies investing in its domestic market: both Macron and Hogan intended to push for the completion of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, which has been under discussion for the past six years.

Competing narrative: EU-China vs. U.S.

Xi and Macron pledges provide an alternative framework for American unilateralism. While Xi is willing to allow European companies broad access to the Chinese market and to remove FDI Foreign Direct Investment barriers, Macron advocates for multilateralism in the UN and WTO and on climate cooperation as a kind of reward for China. Indeed, with this aim in mind, Macron put aside western allegations, repeatedly speaking during his visit on the importance of the relationship between the two countries, trying to consolidate a common EU-China narrative.

According to the Elysée, the message to Beijing was that of a united Europe that does not want to be involved in a U.S.-China trade war. The French President Macron took the opportunity to undermine the American position on the issue and also to address that of climate cooperation as “decisive” when the U.S. President Donald Trump notified its intentions to withdraw the country from the Paris Agreement.

It remains to be seen whether Macron’s successful progress on EU-China deal represents a success for France and China – since they reached several deals worth US$15 billion – or it does benefit the rest of the EU.

For sure, the Shanghai fair was a significant opportunity for China, which showcased its productive relationship with France to look like a reliable trade partner on the world scene. Not surprisingly, the immediate act of the EU official representatives was a statement released that manifested a positive reaction.

*The author has a ‘MA Global Strategy and Security’. She is a former student and researcher at the Italian Centre for Defence Studies CASD, currently a political analyst of China Foreign Policy and Communication.
Twitter: @federicasantoro