A particularly vexing issue was China's status as a non-market economy. That allows the EU and the U.S. to levy anti-dumping charges on Chinese products allegedly selling below cost. The designation of non-market economy was supposed to be lifted last year, but both Washington and Brussels remain firmly opposed to such an important concession to Beijing.
The gutsy EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström told a European Business Summit in Brussels last month that China "needs to walk the (free-trade) talk" … because "whatever President Xi (Jinping) says in Davos (during the World Economic Forum last January), China is still far from a market economy."
Looking at all this, I was wondering: Why does China need to take this sort of treatment?
Beijing has a literally captive Asian market of 4.4 billion people in by far the fastest growing segment of the world economy. Its own increasingly affluent society, with a middle class approaching half a billion mark, is a huge bargaining chip to smash trade shenanigans of hard-up foreign producers desperately looking for large and growing sales opportunities.
And China's stupendous savings rates -- households save 30 percent of disposable income, and the gross national savings amount to 48 percent of GDP -- indicate that it has plenty of money to finance its public and private investments. In fact, China is one of the world's largest financial capital exporters: Last year, it was supposed to recycle its current account surplus of $210 billion.
The monumental Belt & Road project, backed up by China's official funding, magnified by financial resources of private-official partnerships, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the New Development Bank (aka the BRICS bank), local governments (along the B&R trails) and the Eurasian Economic Union (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia) should be a true "dream team." That's what Europeans will be eager to join – just like they did, despite Washington's injunctions, in becoming the first AIIB founding members.
Europe and America can never compete with China's B&R Initiative. More than 100 countries and international organizations are latching on their development programs to these open projects free of trade discrimination. In addition to the $60 billion invested over the last four years, Beijing has just pledged another $79 billion, and a total of $500 billion is expected to finance infrastructure (and related economic assets) in 60 countries along the B&R itineraries over the next five years.
China should not be drawn into the trans-Atlantic family quarrel. Ever since the U.S. presidential elections, the European praise for China was a dig at America. Only the naïve could believe the sincerity of China being feted as a new world leader on free trade and climate change by people seething with anger at an America calling out trade freeloaders, ready to correct trade distortions damaging the U.S. economy and asking NATO members to honor their financial obligations.
What happened in Brussels last Friday should help China to see a number of issues.
One, the key to lifting China's non-market economy status is in Washington, not in Brussels.
Two, Washington controls exports of top (i.e., dual-use) technologies that China is complaining about. Brussels has nothing to do with that.
Three, Europe will come around. Its $318.4 billion export business to the U.S., where it takes a trade surplus of $165 billion, has no ready substitutes. China should look at the current episode as a passing hiccup in an irreplaceable trans-Atlantic community, bound by centuries old history, common culture and unbreakable bonds.