Europe Brings a Lawsuit to a Trade Fight

European Union Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis speaks during a press conference in Brussels, on December 7, 2021.


Photo:

Olivier Matisse/The Associated Press

Sometimes we wonder what Europe’s leaders think they live in. On Thursday, the European Union responded to China’s trade offensive against its member state Lithuania by submitting a dossier. . . Complaint to the World Trade Organization. Talk about bringing your quill pen to a gunfight.

The European Union has said it will challenge China’s “discriminatory trade practices” against Lithuania. Launching the WTO case is not a step we take lightly. “After repeated failed attempts to solve the problem bilaterally, we see no other way forward,” said EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis. “The European Union is determined to act as one and to act swiftly against actions that violate WTO rules, and that threaten the integrity of our single market.” How “design” does this really look?

Although China denies this, Beijing effectively imposed a trade embargo on Lithuania after Vilnius upgraded relations with Taiwan. China’s restrictions on imports, exports and services also affected other European goods that use Lithuanian components. Reuters reported in December that the Chinese government has It pressured a German auto parts maker to stop using Lithuanian-produced parts in its supply chain.

On Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry responded that the EU’s complaint was “groundless and inconsistent” and warned Brussels that it was “unfounded and inconsistent.”Cautious“Lithuania, as if the small Baltic country is the trade threat. Beijing claims that its relationship with Vilnius is political, not economic, but the Chinese Communist Party is using trade as a political weapon. It is also punishing Australia for daring to call for an independent investigation into the origin of Covid-19.

Going to the WTO has symbolic value, but it is not known to speed up dispute resolution. The EU and China could start “consultations” that could last for months. If these fail, the case will be taken to the WTO committee subject to appeal. The whole process can take years, and at the same time Lithuania suffers.

The only language China understands here is similar economic power. If Beijing does not stop punishing Lithuania, the EU’s trade retaliation will send a stronger message than legal registration with the World Trade Organization. Killing the EU-China investment deal, agreed in principle over a year ago but not yet ratified, would catch Beijing’s attention.

If the EU can’t defend its single market to defend its weakest members, what’s the point of that?

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It appeared in the January 29, 2022, print edition as “EU sues in trade battle.”

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