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Chief European Union negotiator proud of vital role played by state-of-the-art act

By MO JINGXI | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-01-17 07:37
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John Clarke likens the agreement reached between China and the European Union on the protection of Geographical Indications as a child he is highly attached to.

The deal, signed in 2020 after more than 20 rounds of negotiations held alternately in Brussels and Beijing over eight years, took effect on March 1, 2021.

Clarke said he is very proud to have worked as the chief EU negotiator for "the first, and so far, the only trade agreement between Europe and China".

"China and the EU were natural partners when it came to negotiating a high-quality GI agreement, because both sides have a very strong and long cultural and culinary heritage and are extremely proud of their authentic, high-quality products," he said.

The outcome was "a state-of-the-art agreement", which the EU has used in its negotiations with other countries, including New Zealand, Australia and Chile, Clarke said.

"We are negotiating another one, with India, and the Indians are saying to us: 'Please, we want an agreement like the one you have with China.' So it really has become the model for all of us," he said.

The agreement with China did not happen easily or overnight, Clarke said, adding that the biggest challenge was that it was the first such deal China had negotiated.

"To use the Chinese proverb, I would say we crossed the river one stone at a time, so it took a lot of time," he said.

But Clarke said it was an extremely good experience, because his Chinese counterparts were well-prepared, principled and clever. "We built up a lot of trust between us," he added.

In addition to formal talks around the table, GI negotiations require field trips to places of origin to see how GI products are produced.

Clarke and his colleagues were taken to Hainan province, Tianjin, and elsewhere in China, while he and his team took the Chinese negotiators to Poland, Ireland, France, Malta and Scotland.

"In a more informal environment away from the capital cities, we could really build a good, trustful relationship and also enjoy eating and drinking GI products," he said.

Clarke's connections with China started more than four decades ago, when he went to Guangzhou, Guangdong province, as a student in 1981 just after the nation opened its doors to foreign visitors.

"In 1984, I went with my father, an archaeologist, to Xi'an, to see the Terracotta Warriors. Two years later, I crossed the Gobi Desert by bus all the way to Kashgar and over to Pakistan," he said.

In September, a week before his formal retirement, for his last official visit as an EU official, Clarke traveled to Suzhou, Jiangsu province.

"I'm very happy to have been associated with China and this agreement," he said.

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