The European Commission and Parliament Tuesday stepped up pressure on EU countries to act on proposed anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures they say are needed to protect European industry against unfair trade practices, especially from China.
“Our trade defense needs to be effective,” said Vytenis Andriukaitis, the European health and food safety commissioner, addressing a parliamentary debate on the EU’s looming decision on whether to grant market economy status to China under World Trade Organization rules.
Beijing argues that the status is an inevitable condition following its accession 15 years ago to the WTO, but critics say it would make it impossible to slap anti-dumping fines on products such as steel, which China can export at low prices because they allegedly benefit from large state subsidies. The topic has become especially thorny in recent weeks as some European industries complain that China should not be granted the status, saying it will cost EU jobs.
Andriukaitis acknowledged that criticism, saying it was “undeniable that China is not a market economy, by any standards” but insisting that the Commission was considering all its options in deciding whether the EU could go along with a decision to grant China the status. That decision must be made by the end of this year.
Granting market economy status under WTO rules would make it harder for other countries to accuse China of using unfair trade practices such as dumping, or selling products such as steel at below-market prices.
The commissioner called on the EU’s Council of Ministers, representing national governments, to take action on the proposed Trade Defense Instruments measure, saying it would be necessary to ensure that EU industry was protected. “The modernization package has to be adopted, but the Council has not moved forward,” he said.
Several EU member countries have been blocking the Commission’s package since 2014.
Throughout the debate, MEPs voice near-unanimous opposition to granting China market economy status, and harshly criticized the Council and Commission for not working fast enough to protect EU industry from Chinese dumping.
“How can it be that it hasn’t done anything about modernization?” said Bernd Lange, a German MEP from the Socialists & Democrats group.
Several other MEPs called on the Commission to come up with a proposal on China’s market economy status soon. The EU executive is currently looking at what impact such a decision would have on EU industry.
Andriukaitis said the impact assessment would be discussed by Commissioners before the summer. EU foreign affairs ministers will discuss the Commission proposal on trade defense instruments at a meeting on Friday.