July 18, 2024

EU trade chief warns China data laws could have ‘unintended consequences’

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The EU trade commissioner warned Tuesday that Chinese regulations governing the transfer of data out of the country, including a revised anti-espionage law, could have “unintended consequences”.

Speaking at the end of a four-day trip to China, Valdis Dombrovskis told a press conference that he had “positive” engagements with local counterparts.

Asked by AFP if he had specifically discussed a recently revised law dramatically expanding China’s definition of espionage, Dombrovskis said it had been raised in the context of discussions around “broader data transfers and data-related remarks”.

“This may be an issue of systemic concern and it may affect all internationally active companies, not only European companies but also Chinese companies,” he said.

“There may be unintended consequences.”

“It’s positive that we held this engagement now from Chinese authorities,” he added.

China has recently implemented expansive new regulations covering cybersecurity, counterespionage and data management, citing the need to shore up national security.

But the new regulations have worried some foreign firms, unsure of how their enforcement will affect their business operations in the world’s second-largest economy.

The EU trade chief reiterated this week European concerns over the laws, stressing they are of “great concern to our business community”.

“Their ambiguity allows too much room for interpretation,” he warned.

  • ‘Need more balance’ –

Dombrovskis also said Tuesday that he had raised the issue of Europe’s ballooning trade deficit with China, which he said had reached 400 billion euros ($423 billion).

“The dramatic increase of the trade deficit in recent years… has made headlines and has forced us to take a closer look,” he said.

“We need more balance and reciprocity in our economic engagements.”

Economic relations between China and the EU were thrown into the spotlight this month after the bloc launched a probe into Chinese subsidies for its electric vehicle industry.

Brussels maintains that Beijing’s subsidies have led to unfair competition within the European market.

And Dombrovskis told the Tuesday press conference that the EU investigation had come up in “pretty much all meetings” while in China, emphasizing that Europe needed to address “trade-distorting measures”.

Another top issue on the EU trade chief’s agenda while in China was Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Beijing has refused to condemn.

“I have been very clear in all my engagements that responding to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is not just an EU priority, it’s a decisive factor for virtually all priorities at the present time,” said Dombrovskis.

China has sought to position itself as a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict, while offering Moscow a vital diplomatic and financial lifeline as its international isolation deepens.

“We are committed to supporting Ukraine to victory for as long as it takes,” Dombrovskis said.

“It is in this context that it’s difficult for us to understand China’s stance.”

by Peter CATTERALL

©️ Agence France-Presse

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