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The EU will probe whether China is unfairly denying companies access to its medical devices market


BRUSSELS — The European Union announced on Wednesday an investigation into whether China is using unfair methods to deprive companies in Europe of access to its market for medical devices ranging from hypodermic needles to high-tech scanners.

The probe launched by the European Commission — the EU’s executive branch as well as its trade and competition watchdog — is the latest attempt to help companies gain the kind of access to China’s vast markets that Chinese firms enjoy in Europe.

“Openness is vital for businesses to thrive, for consumers, and to spur innovation worldwide,” commission trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis said in a statement.

“We are launching this investigation with China so that we can achieve a level playing field in our procurement markets for producers of medical devices, on both sides,” he said. “Regrettably, our repeated discussions with China on this trade irritant have been fruitless.”

Should it fail to resolve the issue, Brussels could restrict the access of Chinese buyers, goods and services to the EU market. It says Chinese exports of medical devices to Europe surged more than 100% between 2015 and 2023.

The commission said it has gathered evidence indicating that China’s market has gradually closed to European firms and products made in the EU. It asserts that measures introduced by China “unfairly differentiate” between local and foreign companies. It did not quantify the effects on European businesses.

France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands are among the countries worst hit, the commission said, but it added that the medical device market is so big that many large companies and thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises around Europe might be suffering unfair treatment.

The first step in the investigation — which could take from nine to 14 months to complete — will be for the commission to send a list of questions to Chinese authorities.

The commission is hopeful that no action will be needed. It says the main aim is to win fair treatment for all sides. “Our expectation is that China’s market for public procurement will be as open to us as ours is to them. Simple. Nothing more, nothing less,” spokesman Olof Gill told reporters.

But China’s foreign ministry said the EU move smacked of protectionism.

“The EU has always touted itself as the most open market worldwide, but what we see now is that it is gradually moving towards protectionism,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

“We urge the EU to adhere to its commitment to the open market and the principle of fair competition, abide by WTO (World Trade Organization) rules, and stop unwarrantedly suppressing and restricting Chinese companies on various pretexts,” he said.

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Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.



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