A high-level business delegation heads to Europe today to sign deals potentially worth billions of dollars on a "wide range of buying interests".
Some media reports put the price tag at 15 billion yuan ($2.2 billion) while others believe that the figure could be considerably higher - but Ministry of Commerce (MOC) officials said there was no way to arrive at an amount before the contracts were actually signed.
The business delegation led by Minister of Commerce Chen Deming is seen as being on a mission to strengthen China-Europe trade ties prior to President Hu Jintao's trip to the G20 Summit, to be held in London in April.
Premier Wen Jiabao, who visited four European countries in early February, was the first senior Chinese official to announce plans for the so-called "procurement teams" during his trip.
The commerce minister's trip is scheduled to cover Switzerland, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Spain, the four countries on Wen's itinerary.
Observers also say the commerce minister's mission would showcase China's strong domestic demand as well as its determination to fight trade protectionism.
"Chen can take a positive message to the world: China, as a major trading power, has no interest in adopting protectionism," said Song Hong, an international trade researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
According to MOC officials, the trade delegates are from Chinese industry associations and companies associated with vehicles and vehicle parts, machinery and electrical products, and environmental protection technologies.
MOC spokesman Yao Jian has said China's rising demand for European goods stems from the 4-trillion yuan ($586 billion) economic stimulus plan that Beijing rolled out in November 2008.
The plan includes huge infrastructure projects, so "Europe has an obvious edge in providing us with the equipment we need," he said.
Zhang Yansheng, a research official with the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planning office, said sending procurement missions to the EU can create a win-win situation.
"Chinese buyers would love to have government insurance on price, quality and delivery time while European sellers can see a good business opportunity," he said.
The initiative is also intended to create a balance in trade, officials said.
China is a key market for the EU and is the 25-nation bloc's fastest growing export destination. Bilateral trade increased 19 percent year-on-year to $425.6 billion in 2008, with China having a trade surplus of $160 billion.
(China Daily 02/24/2009 page1)