Merkel pushes China to open its markets

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday prodded China to ease access to its markets, as the world's top two exporting nations signed a series of deals reportedly worth several billion dollars.

Merkel pushes China to open its markets
Photo: DPA

After meeting Premier Wen Jiabao and overseeing the signing of the agreements covering trade, energy and culture, Merkel said she had emphasised German wishes for greater openness in the world’s third-largest economy.

“Chinese companies, like those of many other countries, enjoy very good access to the German market. We hope that German enterprises can enjoy the same access to the Chinese market,” she told reporters.

Trade between the export powerhouses has grown rapidly – to $91 billion last year, up from $41 billion in 2001, according to Chinese data.

However, in the past few years, the trade balance has tipped decisively in China’s favour, with Chinese exports to Germany totalling $55 billion last year, while trade in the other direction amounted to $36 billion.

“Neither Germany nor China pursues a trade imbalance,” Wen said during a joint press conference after their talks. “We hope that trade can be balanced and orderly.”

China overtook Germany last year to become the world’s top exporter, with some $1.2 trillion in merchandise exported, according to World Trade Organisation figures. Germany exported $1.12 trillion of goods in 2009.

Merkel also said China still had not satisfied all the requirements for attaining market economy status in the eyes of Europe, a designation expected to lessen the occurrence of trade actions being taken against China.

She said Beijing still had to do more to ensure the protection of intellectual property rights and market access.

“From the standpoint of market access, we very much hope that Germany, in entering China’s market, can receive equal treatment,” she said.

However, Merkel described her talks with Wen as “friendly”, while both sides they would work for an even closer trade relationship.

Among the agreements signed was one between Shanghai Electric Group of China and Siemens AG for the creation of a service joint venture for the steam and gas turbine power plant market.

China’s official Xinhua news agency said the deal involved $3.5 billion. Siemens disputed the figure, but did not give another one.

Foton Motor of China and Daimler-Benz AG also signed an agreement for a 50-50 joint venture to produce heavy trucks in China for the domestic and foreign markets.

Trucks under Foton’s Auman brand will be produced using Daimler technology in diesel engines and exhaust systems, allowing the vehicles to meet strict European standards, a statement said, without giving financial details. Xinhua put the value of that deal at $938 million.

China and Germany also signed a pact to create a €124-million ($160.2-million) ‘green’ fund to encourage emissions reductions and corporate energy-saving, Xinhua reported.

Wen repeated Beijing’s intent to remain a long-term investor in the euro despite Europe’s ongoing debt crisis.

“As a responsible, long-term investor, China has always upheld the principle of diversified investments,” he said.

“The European market has been, is now, and will in the future be among the main markets for investment of China’s foreign exchange reserves.”

The debt crisis has forced European governments to bail out Greece and set up a €750-billion loan package with the International Monetary Fund to help any other state that may need assistance.

China’s foreign exchange reserves, already the world’s largest, surged to a record $2.454 trillion at the end of June, according to the central bank.

Merkel met President Hu Jintao later in the day.

During her trip to China, which comes on the heels of a visit to Russia, she is also due to visit Xian, home to China’s ancient terracotta army.

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.