(Bloomberg) — France’s top diplomat will head to China this week to smooth relations after a European anti-subsidy probe championed by Paris into Chinese electric vehicles raised trade tensions with Asia’s biggest economy.
French Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna will argue for a balanced relationship that respects European Union sovereignty, according to a diplomatic source, who asked not to be identified in line with government rules.
The EU investigation, which began in September, has led to concerns of a potential tit-for-tat tariff war at a time when European leaders are seeking to boost economic independence without losing access to China’s massive market after trade deficits ballooned.
A slew of EU officials have headed to Beijing to press the bloc’s desire for a reset of relations, with European Commission and Council presidents Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel due to travel to China next month for the first in-person summit with Beijing’s leadership in four years. Colonna’s visit is key since France has taken a leading role in driving a tougher approach to China.
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French carmakers Stellantis NV and Renault SA are particularly exposed to rising imports of affordable EVs from China, where government help ranges from production subsidies to cheap land and development aid.
In a bid to promote local producers, France is expected to unveil new criteria to hand out support for EVs next month that will likely exclude China-made vehicles due to their carbon footprint.
French officials are also concerned over the intellectual property rights of cosmetics giants such as LVMH and L’Oreal SA as China wants firms to supply data spanning from the details of manufacturing processes to the precise composition of formulas.
Colonna’s two-day visit, which is due to begin Thursday, follows a phone call between Presidents Emmanuel Macron and Xi Jinping on Monday in which the Chinese leader said he welcomes more investment by French companies.
The trip also comes seven months after Macron was invited on a state visit to China during which his attempts to build bridges with Xi and mark Europe’s independence from Washington provoked a furious response from some US lawmakers.
Colonna is expected to address other topics including the war in Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas conflict and North Korea’s support for Russia, according to the diplomatic source. She is also set to sign cultural and scientific cooperation agreements, and discuss facilitating visas for Chinese businesspeople.
An official in Macron’s office said Xi may travel to France next year, when the two countries will celebrate the 60th anniversary of their bilateral relationship.
–With assistance from Colum Murphy and Elisabeth Behrmann.
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