The United Kingdom has announced it will join the growing number of Western nations backing the European Union in a complaint against China, alleging its trade practices unfairly target EU member state Lithuania.
In an early morning Tweet on February 7, UK Secretary of State for International Trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “We support our allies, Lithuania & the EU, in standing against China’s use of coercive trading practices. That’s why we will request to join the EU’s WTO consultation into these measures as a third party to ensure we combat economic coercion in trade together.”
The trade spat began when Lithuania agreed to allow Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in its capital Vilnius, prompting Beijing to recall its ambassador and to expel Lithuania’s ambassador to China. Lithuania has since closed its embassy in Beijing.
Lithuania’s foreign affairs ministry said on Twitter that the US was also backing its case. Washington often joins trade disputes as third parties and has already voiced support for Lithuania.
The challenge at the WTO allows 60 days for the parties to confer to reach a settlement. If none is reached, the EU may launch a formal dispute that would set up a WTO panel to study its claims against China.
A Geneva-based trade official said the participation of other Western countries, assuming they are not blocked by Beijing, would be “helpful” to the EU’s case.
“If you have other members arguing on your behalf and putting forward arguments, I think the panel would look at that,” he said.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Neal McGrath