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Trade in a changing world

2010-12-03 16:44

The increasing number of trade remedy investigation cases that the European Union (EU) has launched against imports from China surely justifies the latter's concern if those measures are simply for protective purposes.

It was reported that the EU launched more trade remedy investigation cases against Chinese products in the first 10 months of this year than it did during the whole of 2009. This year's cases involved a total value of $4.74 billion, a five-fold increase over that of the previous year.

Given the huge size and robust growth of China-EU trade, which reached about $350 billion in the first three quarters of this year, up more than one third year-on-year, disputes over less than 2 percent of the bilateral trade volume are certainly no cause for panic.

Such disputes can even be viewed as a sign that trade relations are maturing between the two. The 27-member EU is China's biggest trading partner while the latter ranks as the EU's second-biggest trade partner and its biggest source of imports. However, the need to keep trade conflicts in perspective does not mean that policymakers from both sides can lower their guard against protectionism.

Chinese and European leaders deserve credit for their joint efforts to face down protectionists. Much has been said about how expensive government bailouts have saved the global financial and economic systems from collapse, but few seem to have fully recognized the importance of these efforts to combat trade protectionism. Without them, things could be even more ugly than they are.

Nevertheless, the recent rise in the number of trade remedy investigation cases launched by the EU does not bode well for bilateral trade ties and global trade growth.

Trade is the engine for global growth and will remain so if major trade powers can accommodate the concerns of the others while pursuing their own interests.

The Chinese government has made it a top priority in its next five-year plan to accelerate domestic consumption to replace investment and export as the leading driver of sustainable growth. Meanwhile, the EU has made clear its intention to trade its way out of the current economic crisis.

The EU estimates that by 2015, 90 percent of world growth will be generated outside Europe, with a third generated by China alone.

If that is the case, stronger China-EU trade ties will be crucial to both sides' efforts to seize the opportunities arising from the profound changes that will transform the world economy and global trade in coming years.

That also means EU policymakers should do more to assure China that none of their trade remedy measures is taken for protective or political purposes.

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