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French President Emmanuel Macron touched down in Shanghai on Monday afternoon to begin a three-day trip to China, expecting deals on agriculture and finance and progress on a long-awaited EU-China trade agreement.
Macron begins his trip in Shanghai with a visit to the China International Import Expo and a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He will then travel to Beijing for further talks.
Macron is accompanied by a large business delegation representing 30 companies, who will work with the president to increase Chinese imports of French goods.
France’s largest trade deficit is with China, which reached €29.2 billion (US$32.61 billion) last year.
Macron advisers told Reuters ahead of his trip that France expected 40 deals to be signed between France and China, ranging from agriculture to finance.
French President Emmanuel Macron to attend Shanghai import expo as EU continues push for China trade agreement
Other European leaders are also visiting China, including German Education Minister Anja Karliczek and the likely next EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan.
Macron has been keen to make China’s relationship with the European Union a major part of his dealings with Beijing.
On his first visit to Beijing in January last year, Macron said he was determined “to get the Europe-China partnership into the 21st century” and called for more rules-based trade.
He also said China’s Belt and Road Initiative could not be a “one-way” effort, but required more reciprocity.
Macron also promised to visit China at least once a year during his time as president.
When Xi visited Paris in March this year, he also extended a last-minute invitation to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to join the talks.
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Writing in People’s Daily on Monday, China’s new ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, signalled approval of Macron’s vision for “21st century” relations, saying the two countries – both permanent members of the UN Security Council – should work more closely to improve multilateral cooperation on issues such as climate change and the Iran nuclear deal.
Macron and other European visitors will also push for the swift completion of the EU-China comprehensive agreement on investment.
The two sides have been meeting once a month since EU and Chinese leaders pledged to speed up negotiations in April, with the aim of agreeing on a deal before the end of next year.
Talks on the deal, which European officials say is meant to create a “level playing field” and increase investment between the two sides, began in 2013 but had stalled until this year.
“Against the backdrop of the US-China trade war, and Europe’s own weak economic situation and the threat of Brexit, there are all kinds of possibilities for cooperation between Europe and China,” said Tong Jiadong, professor of international trade at Nankai University.
“For China, the more cooperation there is [with foreign partners], the better the external environment.”
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While China was closing in on an interim trade deal with the United States, exports from France and other European countries were generally not in competition with those from America, said Ding Chun, director of the Centre for European Studies at Fudan University.
Major agriculture products coming from the United States include soybeans, cotton and wheat, as well as pork and corn. The EU also supplied China with pork, grain and corn, but provided more dairy, wheat and fruit to China than the US, Ding said.
China needs French pork and dairy products and there is a high demand for specialist products such as wine and cheese.
“The taste for these European products, like French or Italian wines, has been on the rise, and has a great reputation with Chinese people, far more than in previous years,” Ding said.
“The EU has a comparative advantage in certain agricultural products China needs, like cereals, milk and dairy products and wines.
“Although we have promised to import more agricultural products from the US, like soybeans, we still have a need to import other products from European countries like France or Italy.”
This article French President Emmanuel Macron starts China visit hoping for agriculture and finance deals first appeared on South China Morning Post