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EU states to refuse to sign trade statement at new 'Silk Road' forum

Zhang Duo/dpa

Beijing (dpa) – EU states voiced reservations over Beijing's ambitious plans to create a new "Silk Road" for intercontinental trade and infrastructure, demanding guarantees from China on free trade, environmental protection and working conditions.

Germany's economy minister, Brigitte Zypries, said EU countries are determined not to sign a joint statement on trade unless China meets their demands, speaking at the Belt and Road Forum on Sunday.

"So far the demands of the EU countries in areas such as free trade, setting a level playing field and equal conditions have not been met," Zypries told journalists on the sidelines of the forum, hosted by China in order to garner support for the initiative.

"Therefore we say at the moment, if that does not happen, then we cannot sign. But the meeting ends tomorrow, and we’ll see what happens.

"European delegates who had negotiated with Chinese officials were concerned about transparency, public tenders and international standards on social and environmental protection, European sources familiar with the talks had told dpa.

The German government wants to see that German companies have the same kind of access to the Chinese market as Chinese companies have in Germany, and that they can be "100 per cent active as investors," Zypries said.

"This is still a problem between our states," she said.

The Belt and Road initiative, first announced by Chinese president Xi Jinping in 2013, aims to create a trade and infrastructure network linking China with countries in Central and South-East Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Officials from more than 100 countries are attending a two-day forum to support the initiative in Beijing, which opened with speeches by Xi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres.

Most Western European countries have sent ministers or other lower-ranking officials to the forum, in a sign of hesitation about China's initiative, which they have criticized for its lack of transparency and formal structure.

The initiative has also faced backlash from India, who decided to boycott the forum because part of a planned China-Pakistan corridor will run through the disputed Kashmir region.

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