Three EU trade officials on a three-day tour of booming Zhejiang Province in east China held a three-hour meeting on Sunday with five local enterprises and the Shoe and Leather Industry Association of Wenzhou City.
The theme of the meeting was market economy status and the five firms included two textile companies and another two shoemakers whose products the European Union have taken an interest in over an extended period of time.
"This is the first time that foreign trade officials have had face-to-face contact with Chinese enterprises in Sino-EU trade negotiations," said Wang Shichun, Head of the Fair Trade Department of the Ministry of Commerce, who escorted the EU officials during their visit to Zhejiang.
Wang noted that from April 4 to 6 the World Trade Organization is to publish for the first time a report on the examination and approval of trade policies for China. The views of the EU, a top trading partner of the country, will be crucial to the report.
The EU officials, Fritz-Harald Wenig, who is in charge of trade relief in the European Commission, and two of his colleagues, Christophe Doucerain and Andreas Hellmut Schwarz, said that from the trip they aimed to understand how enterprises in Zhejiang operated.
Among the 61 Chinese businesses which have been recognized by the EU as market economy companies 35 are based in Zhejiang.
On Sunday morning, Chen Zemei, chairman of the Wenzhou-based Zhejiang Saina Group, one of the five companies and China's leading exporter of work safety shoes said to Wenig, "We hope industry associations in the EU will come to Wenzhou to communicate directly with enterprises. They may find that we are market-economy companies if they come to the city to have a look."
Zhu Feng, secretary general of the Shoe and Leather Industry Association of Wenzhou, noted, "I participated in the three-hour talks in order to convey our companies' wishes directly to the EU trade officials.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for the Chinese firms to speak sincerely and frankly to the EU officials," Zhu added.
Wenig commented, "It is our first face-to-face contact with Chinese enterprises. Both sides should try their best to exchange views. And the venue to do this is not necessarily confined to negotiation tables in Beijing."
It’s a pity that until now Chinese enterprises have been absent from Sino-foreign trade talks, some trade experts acknowledged.
In the Sino-EU negotiations on textile trade last year, former WTO textile negotiator Li Yueyin said, "In comparison with the EU and the United States the voice of China's enterprises and industry associations in international trade talks has been faint."
On March 8 shoe industry associations from Guangdong Province, Quanzhou city in Fujian Province and Wenzhou city in Zhejiang P rovince, joined together to voice their objections to EU anti-dumping lawsuits.
It is a positive beginning that five enterprises have spoken on behalf of Chinese companies for the first time in Sino-EU trade negotiations, Wang Shichun said.
(Xinhua News Agency March 14, 2006)