© AFP/File | China is Europe’s second-largest trading partner and makes more than half the world’s steel
The 28 ministers meeting in Brussels are looking to agree on a new method to assess whether Chinese exporters are unfairly flooding the European market with their products.
But within the EU, the tougher proposals have been rejected by free-trade purists such as Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands that fear a move towards protectionism and angering China.
Steelmakers are especially keen for the changes after being battered by a collapse in prices due to China-led oversupply and a wave of cheap imports.
About 15,000 steelworkers protested in Brussels on Wednesday demanding that the EU pass the tougher rules.
“Whether we can reach an agreement today or not, I don’t really know, but it is in the process. If not today, I see it quite soon,” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said as she arrived for the talks.
These extra defences are key as China in December is widely expected to receive the official World Trade Organization designation of Market Economy Status (MES).
This new standing means that China’s trade partners will no longer be allowed to use alternative methods to measure potential price dumping, handing much more power in trade fights to Beijing.
To counter this, the European Commission’s proposal introduces several criteria to assess trade partners, such as state policies and influence, the widespread presence of state-owned companies and the independence of the financial sector.
Beijing on Thursday said the EU’s tougher proposals were wrong, leaving China as a “surrogate country” in the eyes of the WTO.
“These new measures have no basis in World Trade Organization rules,” said China’s commerce ministry spokesman Shen Danyang, adding that the EU was illegally stripping China of its WTO rights.
The EU has had a series of trade skirmishes with China, its second-largest trading partner.
China makes more than half the world’s steel and is accused of massive dumping as its own market slows sharply.