Macron wants to take Beijing 'at its word' on free trade

French President Emmanuel Macron meets President Xi Jinping in Nice, 24 March 2019.

French President Emmanuel Macron arrives in China on Monday to drum up new business deals, but under warning from his hosts to keep off thorny issues such as the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Macron will seek to make China deliver on promises to grant more access to foreign companies, eyeing agribusiness and finance, advisers said ahead of his arrival in Shanghai for a giant import fair.

Landing in the afternoon, Macron begins his second official trip to China in the financial hub of Shanghai where he will attend an international import fair against the backdrop of the US-China trade war. He will have dinner with President Xi Jinping before heading to Beijing, where the two will hold more talks, with French officials saying Macron will not shy away from "taboo" topics including Hong Kong and the mass detention of Muslims in China's northwest Xinjiang region.

Macron, who will attend the fair along with other European officials including incoming EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan, would take China “at its word” that it aims to open itself up to trade, a presidential adviser said ahead of the 4-6 November trip.

A French presidential advisor said French companies expected to come away with around 40 contracts in agriculture, tourism, health and other sectors in which France is traditionally strong.

“Since this fair is supposed to demonstrate China’s openness, well, let’s prove it with access to its agrobusiness market and progress on the EU-China deals,” the adviser added.

Macron travels with a business delegation of 30 companies ranging from blue chips to small firms. He will seek greater access in the fields of finance and aerospace as well as fewer export restrictions for French poultry.

China has long been dogged by Western allegations of unfair trade practices, from forced tech transfers to protectionist market entry policy.

That has led to disputes with the United States in particular, which has slapped tariffs on Chinese exports. The French adviser said Washington was right to push for better behavior from the Chinese, even if France does not necessarily support President Donald Trump’s trade moves.

“The United States ask the right questions, but don’t necessarily have the right answers,” the French adviser said.

The French president will be visiting China for the second time since he took office. During his last trip last year, he said Beijing's flagship "Belt and Road" project to develop global trade infrastructure should not be "one-way" here

Macron has been keen for EU countries, which negotiate trade deals as a bloc, to show a united political front towards Beijing. When President Xi Jinping came to Paris in March, Macron invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker to the Elysee palace.

Germany’s exports to China account for nearly half the EU total and more than four times as much as those of France.

Demonstrating unity is “important, because we know how Europeans have moved to China without any co-ordination in the past, letting China think we were divided,” the adviser said.

 

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