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Free trade is big issue for European business

Reporter: Guy Henderson 丨 CCTV.com

11-24-2016 06:11 BJT

As China's vice premier arrives in Germany to talk free trade - calls in Europe for protection against Chinese imports.

You might expect the Butthmann family business to be in favour of lower steel prices. They do, after all, make steel parts for the construction industry.

But right now they won't buy the cheapest product on the market -which is imported from China.

"In principle, free trade is always the better choice. But in this case it makes sense to protect the domestic industry against lower quality products and an output level which is unreasonable. I am not afraid that German or European steel might be a bit more expensive. The price of our products will be a bit higher -- there will be no other effects," said Marco Buthmann, CEO of Buthmann AG.

But many European buyers aren't prepared to pay more to support local suppliers.

The European Union may be the second largest steel producer in the world - but the industry is in trouble. Bosses here say they can't compete with imports from China that they say are unfairly priced. And they want protection - in the form of tariffs - to try and put a stop to them.

It's a sticking point that comes at a potentially awkward time.

Officials from both countries at the annual "China Meets Europe" economic summit - talk of keeping free trade alive: at a time when the very foundations of globalisation are being shaken.

Indeed, that's one of the arguments used by European Union officials - likely to formally recognise China as a "market economy" early next month: in other words, a free and fair trader.

Chinese executives here believe a few outstanding issues shouldn't stand in the way.

"Economic reform is the hallmark of the China strategy - Xi Jinxing and presidents before him - so I hope China will continue in that road. But also, with these new developments, I think China should speed up economic structural reforms and globalisation, because that will provide stability for the world," Victor Chu, chairman of First Eastern Investment Group.

Such a move could make imposing import tariffs more difficult. The Buthmanns -- and their suppliers even more - hope the EU may still find a way.

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