China warns EU on protectionism

BRUSSELS: China's Vice Premier Wang Qishan warned Europe on Thursday about turning to protectionism in the depths of an economic crisis at the start of two-days of high-level talks with EU officials.

"Both sides should oppose protectionism in unequivocal terms," Wang told senior EU commissioners, including trade chief Catherine Ashton, as the talks got underway in Brussels.

"The beggar-they-neighbour approach will only lead to problems," he warned, insisting that "China and the European Union have a lot to offer each other."

The EU and China are due to hold a summit in Prague on May 20 where trade relations are expected to be a main feature.

While the EU and China are major trade partners, frictions have been on the rise, especially with Europe opening a growing number of anti-dumping cases against Chinese industries ranging from, candle-makers to screws and bolts.

Meanwhile, Europe remains frustrated at obstacles to doing business in China's vast and fast growing markets and is also deeply concerned about counterfeiting.

"We stand by our commitment to free-trade and resist calls for protectionism," Ashton told delegates. "Both China and the EU have an interest in keeping markets open."

The EU is China's biggest trade partner with the 27-nation bloc taking in 248 billion euros worth of Chinese-made goods last year.

Europe's imports from China have grown by around 18 percent per year for the last four years, although the rate of growth slowed in 2008 as the global economy weakened.