China will conduct talks on an investment pact with the European Union “at its own pace”, its foreign ministry said on Friday, raising doubts about whether a deal can be sealed by year-end.
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Negotiations for the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, which would grant European companies greater access to the Chinese market, have gone on for six years.
Read more: EU nations convene meeting to start assessing post-Brexit trade deal with UK
An EU official said last week that a deal was close following a push from Germany, which holds the EU presidency until the end of the year and is the biggest European exporter to China.
But the latest comments by the Chinese government suggest otherwise.
China will “conduct talks at its own pace on the premise of safeguarding its security and developmental interests”, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a news briefing on Friday.
His comments echoed that of the commerce ministry, which said late on Thursday that reaching an agreement required effort from both sides to “meet each other halfway.”
Wang’s latest comments were also a walk-back from a day earlier. On Thursday, Wang had denied that talks were stuck due to China making more demands on nuclear energy. “As I understand, talks are goings smoothly,” he had said.
A senior Western diplomat in Beijing told Reuters that China had asked Europe for “impossible things”, such as access to sensitive sectors such as energy, water treatment and public utilities.
Another major sticking point is China’s reluctance to ratify international laws related to labor and other aspects of sustainable development, the diplomat added.