BRUSSELS, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) — Business leaders from China and the European Union (EU) have been encouraged to see the bilateral trade grow in 2020, a year that was marred with lockdowns and industrial disruptions due to the restrictive measures put in place to curb the spread of the pandemic.
Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU, said on Monday that China became the EU’s main trade partner last year, a place that had been long dominated by the United States.
The bloc’s imports from China in 2020 grew by 5.6 percent year-on-year to 383.5 billion euros (465 billion U.S. dollars), and exports grew by 2.2 percent to 202.5 billion euros. Meanwhile, its trade with the U.S. saw a substantial decline in both ways, according to Eurostat.
Xu Haifeng, chairman of Bank of China (Luxembourg) S.A., hailed the statistical results as “a watershed moment for EU-China trade ties.”
In an interview with Xinhua on Tuesday about the reasons why the China-EU trade could buck the recession, he attributed it largely to the rapid recovery in the Chinese market: “China took strict measures to combat COVID-19, Chinese people and enterprises made a great sacrifice, and these efforts paid off: the supply chains in China were restored quickly and the strength of China’s manufacturing has been maintained.”
China was the only major economy in the world that registered a 2.3-percent growth of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020, whereas the global economy suffered a contraction of around 3.5 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Xu, who also chairs the China Chamber of Commerce to the European Union (CCCEU), said the historic change came as no surprise.
“China’s rapid recovery from the pandemic and measures to shore up domestic consumption have been a driving force in keeping the EU’s exports of goods to China at a stable and even slightly higher level. Furthermore, the resilience of the supply chain in China certainly laid a solid foundation of manufacturing for stronger need of the EU market,” he said.
Encouraged by the development, an EU business leader believed it demonstrated the importance of keeping the momentum going.
“My personal expectation is that we should continue to have a strong trade relationship with China. China is now a booming economy in the world, and it’s in the interest of the EU and EU companies to have close trade relations with China,” said Bernard Dewit, chairman of the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
What added to the economic boost was the conclusion of the seven-year negotiation for a bilateral investment agreement between the EU and China in December, a deal that has been longed for by the EU to level up the playing field and offer more business opportunities for both sides.
Describing the agreement as “a big step forward,” Dewit said the compromise reached between the two sides is a good sign, although the draft document is yet to be approved by the European Parliament and national legislatures.
The conclusion of the negotiation gives a boost to the confidence of the Chinese business community in the EU, said Xu. “We look forward to ratification and signing of the accord in coming months, and we hope it can be signed quickly,” he added.
Dewit said that it is necessary for two of the largest markets in the world, China with a population of 1.4 billion and EU over 400 million, to seek to improve economic ties: “I think it’s in the interest of both parties to improve, to further exchange, to negotiate eventually new common grounds for the benefit of both parties, and in the end, the world.”