Opinion

How could Europe benefit from the US-China trade war?

Under pressure from the US, Beijing is set to be more open to making new allies.

By: Date: October 18, 2018 Topic: Global Economics & Governance

Versions of this article have also been published by Caixin, Die Zeit, Nikkei and Politico.

Caixin logo

Politico logo

The European Union and Donald Trump got off to an awkward start. Initially, the U.S. president seemed to want to take on the world, confronting China and his country’s long-time allies alike.

More recently, however, tensions between the U.S. and the Europe have calmed — especially as Trump has turned his focus squarely on China. This provides the EU with an important opportunity it must not waste — to use the pressure on China to more clearly set the rules of engagement with Beijing.

There are many reasons why Trump may have shifted his crosshairs. They include worries about Beijing’s rise and the perception that competition from China has cost the U.S. jobs in important economic sectors.

Trump also seems to have realized that the EU remains an important ally — despite its trade surplus. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker diplomatic success has also helped — even if the truce remains fragile. The question now becomes: How can Europe benefit from the U.S.-China trade tensions?

At first blush, it doesn’t look great. Trade wars aren’t just easy to lose; they also cause collateral damage to companies in third countries because of globally integrated supply chains. The German carmaker Daimler, for example, blamed a recent profit warning on the U.S.-China trade war, warning that it would make its exports more expensive.

But trade wars also create opportunities for companies and sectors in third countries. One might see European agriculture exports to China increase, for example, as they replace products once sourced from the US. European companies manufacturing consumer goods could benefit from rising export opportunities in the US.

But the trade war also offers Europe a far larger opportunity. Under pressure from the U.S., Beijing is set to be more open to make new allies.

So Trump has announced a 10% tariff on $200 billion-worth of imports from China, and threatened to increase the percentage to 25% if Beijing does not end its “unfair” trading practices. China has, in turn, announced counter-tariffs on some $60 billion-worth of imports.

True, China is less vulnerable to a trade war than it would have been a few years ago, having rebalanced its economy away from exports. But Beijing can’t afford having Japan, the U.S. and the EU form a united front as they recently did with a declaration on forced technology transfer that was clearly targeted at China.

Beijing is therefore actively reaching out to Brussels, trying to advance talks on bilateral investment and aiming to start negotiations on a trade agreement. China would also like to see the EU as a strategic partner in the World Trade Organization.

This gives EU officials an important opening. The bloc’s key interests are clear: China needs to open up its markets to more sectors.

European investment in China has been falling for years as market access has become more difficult. Europe needs to ensure that Beijing treats European companies on an equal footing to their domestic ones. It must also insist that it remove unfair subsidies delivered through state owned banks and other state owned companies.

China, of course, will not fundamentally alter its economic model. But there’s reason to believe it’s ready to make some concessions.

European leaders also need to work with Beijing to address concerns at home. As China has found it more difficult to invest in the U.S., it has moved its investment efforts to Europe — especially in cutting edge technology.

European companies and politicians have observed this rise with mixed feelings. Of course, Chinese investment is welcome and can increase corporate profits, especially when access to Chinese markets is improved.

But there is a clear worry that China uses market manipulation and subsidies to buy companies at unfair prices. Security concerns about sensitive technologies have also been raised. The EU needs to define its red lines on Chinese technology acquisition and enforce them more vigorously.

The overall upshot is clear. Whatever the economic spillover of the U.S.-China trade war, there is diplomatic advantage to be gained. It’s up to Europe’s leaders to formulate a unified strategic position and explore the opportunity.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint.

Due to copyright agreements we ask that you kindly email request to republish opinions that have appeared in print to communication@bruegel.org.

View comments
Read article More on this topic

Opinion

Sticks and carrots from China’s leadership to Chinese banks

The takeaway from the 13th National People's Congress (NPC) is clear: under the current economic downturn, Chinese authorities will do whatever it takes to support the real economy. Alicia García Herrero and Gary Ng reflect on the "sticks snd carrots" approach to Chinese banks.

By: Alicia García-Herrero and Gary Ng Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: March 21, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Mar
26
12:30

Spitzenkandidaten series: Yanis Varoufakis

The first event in the The Road to Europe - Brussels Briefing Live: Spitzenkandidaten series. The series features the lead candidates for the European Elections of six parties and is jointly organised by Bruegel and the Financial Times in March and April 2019.

Speakers: Maria Demertzis, Martin Sandbu and Yanis Varoufakis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

The trade crisis: good and bad scenarios and the EU's response

What role will the EU play in the resolution of the global trade crisis?

Speakers: Uri Dadush, Maria Demertzis and Denis Redonnet Topic: Global Economics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: March 20, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

China’s debt is still piling up – and the pile-up is getting faster

With looser monetary policy, China's policymakers hope to encourage banks to lend more to the private sector. This seems to imply a change from the deleveraging drive begun in mid-2017. Although this should be good news for China's growth in the short term, such a continued accumulation of debt cannot but imply deflationary pressures and a lower potential growth further down the road.

By: Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: March 19, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Apr
2
12:30

Spitzenkandidaten series: Bas Eickhout

The second event in the The Road to Europe - Brussels Briefing Live: Spitzenkandidaten series. The series features the lead candidates for the European Elections of six parties and is jointly organised by Bruegel and the Financial Times in March and April 2019.

Speakers: Bas Eickhout, Guntram B. Wolff and Rochelle Toplensky Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article More by this author

Opinion

New EU industrial policy can only succeed with focus on completion of single market and public procurement

France and Germany recently unveiled a manifesto for a European industrial policy fit for the 21st century, sparking a lively debate across the continent. The fundamental idea underpinning the manifesto is a good one: Europe does need an industrial policy to ensure that EU companies remain highly competitive globally, notwithstanding strong competition from China and other big players. However, the Franco-German priorities are unsuitable for the pursuit of this goal.

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Innovation & Competition Policy Date: March 18, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Apr
3
12:30

Spitzenkandidaten series: ALDE

The third event in the The Road to Europe - Brussels Briefing Live: Spitzenkandidaten series. The series features the lead candidates for the European Elections of six parties and is jointly organised by Bruegel and the Financial Times in March and April 2019.

Speakers: Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Apr
4
08:30

Spitzenkandidaten series: Jan Zaradhil

The fourth event in the The Road to Europe - Brussels Briefing Live: Spitzenkandidaten series. The series features the lead candidates for the European Elections of six parties and is jointly organised by Bruegel and the Financial Times in March and April 2019.

Speakers: Jim Brunsden, Maria Demertzis and Jan Zahradil Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Apr
9
12:30

Spitzenkandidaten series: Manfred Weber

The fifth event in the The Road to Europe - Brussels Briefing Live: Spitzenkandidaten series. The series features the lead candidates for the European Elections of six parties and is jointly organised by Bruegel and the Financial Times in March and April 2019.

Speakers: Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, Manfred Weber and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Apr
11
12:00

Spitzenkandidaten series: Frans Timmermans

The sixth event in the The Road to Europe - Brussels Briefing Live: Spitzenkandidaten series. The series features the lead candidates for the European Elections of six parties and is jointly organised by Bruegel and the Financial Times in March and April 2019.

Speakers: Frans Timmermans and André Sapir Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

Policy Contribution

The European Union’s response to the trade crisis

The global trading system is under attack on various fronts. In this Policy Contribution, the authors examine the root causes of the current problems, develop good and bad scenarios for what could happen next, and provide recommendations for how the EU should respond.

By: Uri Dadush and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: March 14, 2019
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

External Publication

Towards EU-MENA shared prosperity

This joint publication collects the papers produced as part of the third collaboration between Bruegel and the Policy Center for the New South (PCNS). Within the theme “Towards EU-MENA Shared Prosperity”, the two organisations launched a “Platform for Advanced & Emerging Economies Policy Dialogue” in Rabat on 1 April 2016, addressing issues of common interest in the Mediterranean and the MENA Region.

By: Abdelaziz Ait Ali, Uri Dadush, Yassine Msadfa, Yana Myachenkova and Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: March 14, 2019
Load more posts