‘Not a mistake’: German minister reacts to awkward timing of EU-China deal


LONDON — Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier said it was “not a mistake” to have agreed the China-EU investment deal just a few weeks before U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Speaking to CNBC’s Geoff Cutmore via videoconference at the Davos Agenda on Monday, Altmaier said the EU’s new investment deal with China was “in large parts a twin of arrangements the U.S. already have with China and it’s about creating a level playing field.”

“So I’m very optimistic that we can develop and negotiate and sign more similar agreements worldwide and that the U.S. will also follow this path in their negotiations with other countries worldwide,” Altmaier added.

The executive arm of the EU, the European Commission, announced the new investment deal with China on December 30, after several years of negotiations. However, it is still to be finalized and is subject to approval by the European Parliament.

EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis told CNBC previously that “the main purpose of this agreement is to address the economic imbalance in our relations.”

The announcement of the agreement awkwardly came just days after a top advisor to Biden hinted that the incoming administration would welcome being involved in “early consultations with our European partners on our common concerns about China’s economic practices.” The deal was also seen as China stealing a march on the U.S. as the Biden administration prepared to occupy the White House.

German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier speaks to the media about the German government’s proposed new federal budget on March 23, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.

Christian Marquardt | Pool | Getty Images

At the time of the announcement, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that the “EU has the largest single market in the world,” and that while it is “open for business … we are attached to reciprocity, level playing field & values.”

A European Commission statement on the deal said China had committed to allowing a “greater level of market access for EU investors than ever before, including some new important market openings.”

China was also said to have committed to ensuring “fair treatment for EU companies so they can compete on a better level playing field” in the country, which included rules against the “forced transfer of technologies.” It had also agreed to sustainable development provisions, such as commitments on forced labor.


Katherine Clark