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European businesses critical of China's 'slow and uneven' market access


The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China called on Beijing in a Sept. 19 report to walk the walk when it comes to opening up the mainland market to foreign firms, saying the process has been "slow and uneven."

The Beijing-based chamber got very granular with its criticisms and proposals in its annual position paper, a wide-ranging document that covers everything from the carbon market to imported cheese.

One of the biggest complaints was about the reciprocal market access.

"In contrast to Chinese companies who face few, if any, limitations in investing in European industries like automotive, construction, financial services, health care, insurance, logistics, media and telecommunications, European companies in China continue to be either be fully barred from participating or limited to holding a minority position," the chamber wrote.

When it came to the initiative to automate and robotize mainland manufacturing, the chamber was blunt: "European businesses have been subject to several instances of unequal treatment under the China Manufacturing 2025 (CM2025) initiative."

Mats Harborn, the president of Beijing-based EUCCC, told CNBC that China needed more follow through on its public commitments to market openness.

"[There's] a lot of rhetoric but still we are waiting for action," Harborn said. "It's a very mixed picture. In some areas we see progress. In some areas we see China going backward."

In its report, the chamber said China risked backlash in Europe: "If China is ultimately unwilling to offer reciprocal access to its own market, it cannot assume that it will indefinitely continue to enjoy open and unhindered access to the EU's."

One key area of concern for foreign companies in China is human resources. The chamber expressed particular concern about recruiting and retaining both engineers and skilled factory workers.

"These are very critical not only to Chinese manufacturers but also European companies operating here," said George Lau, a chamber vice president, in an event in Guangzhou to release the report.

The chamber wants more flexibility in hiring temporary and part-time workers and terminating employees. It also calls for more flexibility in hiring foreign talent, both young -- the chamber wants more internship opportunities for foreigners -- and old.

Current China law makes it difficult to hire women over 55 and men over 60. As it has in past years, the chamber complained about a poor match-up between Chinese graduates' skills and workplace needs, requiring extensive training programs.


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