The EU and China could sign an agreement as soon as Wednesday that will give EU companies better access to the Chinese market, European officials have said.
“The talks are about to be concluded. It’s looking good. There are only some minor details left which need to be hammered out,” an EU official told Reuters.
“As things stand now, the political agreement between the EU and China will be sealed on Wednesday,” they added.
Officials have said China will open up its manufacturing industry to EU firms, along with construction, advertising, air transport, maritime services, telecoms and cloud computing.
Discussions for the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment started way back in 2014 but made little progress because the EU said the world’s second largest economy was not keeping its promise of lifting restrictions on EU investment.
The US and China’s deteriorating trade relations may have been a catalyst for a deal with the EU finally being agreed, officials have said, although an EU-China agreement could cause frictions with the incoming administration of Joe Biden.
EU-China relations have also been strained, one reason being China's imposition of a security law in Hong Kong.
The deal includes EU investment protection but talks on this have not yet been concluded.
The agreement may not be implemented for another year as a political agreement this week would still mean the deal has to be transposed into legal texts and go through a ratification process by the European parliament.
Under the agreement, China will pledge to subscribe to the International Labour Organisation’s rules on forced labour.
This was a contentious issue due to reports that China uses Uighur Muslims detained in large numbers as forced labour. China has denied these claims.
Another issue had been China's demands for access to the EU's energy market because of sensitivities over national security. The deal is expected to give Beijing access to a small part of the European renewable energy sector on a reciprocal basis.
Last week, China has said will conduct talks with the EU "at its own pace on the premise of safeguarding its security and developmental interests,” creating doubts about whether a deal could be done by the end of the year.
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