EU-China talks and the non-deal with Mercosur

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 8, 2023
Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Instead of pitching up in Brazil to sign an ambitious trade pact with the South American bloc Mercosur, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen found herself in Beijing.

There, she and European Council President Charles Michel had the European Union’s (EU) first face-to-face summit in four years. As the world’s largest single market, the 27-member EU wants to forge a strong relationship with China, one that is distinct from its ties with the United States. In fact, new polling (out December 6) for the European Council on Foreign Relations found a majority of Europeans expressing the hope it would be possible to have good relations with both China and the US.

In a sense, the EU-China talks are, like any deal with Mercosur would’ve been, an investment in a shared trading future. The Beijing meeting underlines fears of a global shift away from promoting trade.

China’s Xi Jinping insisting that Beijing wants to be a “trusted partner” on trade. That said, however tactfully the Europeans put it to the Chinese, the relationship has been heading the other way. In recent months, Brussels has outlined a “de-risking” strategy. And just this week, Italy finally unbuckled itself from China’s Belt and Road infrastructure programme.

Europe’s de-risking plans mean it should be forging new trade ties and developing supply chains with countries that are less like China and more like itself. A trade deal with the Mercosur bloc would’ve signalled that Europe’s geopolitical ambitions are well on track. And it would have been rather good news on which to end a difficult year.

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