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TRADE WARS
EU firms want 'concrete action' from China on access
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Sept 19, 2017


Beijing, Shanghai shut down bitcoin exchanges: media
Beijing (AFP) Sept 19, 2017 - Banking regulators in Beijing and Shanghai have ordered local cryptocurrency exchanges to shut down, state media reported Tuesday, in the latest blow to the once flourishing Chinese market for virtual money.

A Beijing-based regulator required all exchanges in the city to cease operations by 6:00 pm on September 20, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Shanghai's exchanges were also ordered closed last week, it said, without providing more information.

The international value of bitcoin has plunged in recent days amid speculation that the Chinese authorities would shut down the trading platforms following a ban on initial coin offerings earlier in the month.

It was trading at $3,969 Tuesday, down from highs around $4,359 a week ago.

Xinhua's report follows announcements last week by China's two largest bitcoin platforms -- BTCC and OKCoin -- that they would stop all trading operations following new Chinese government regulations clamping down on crypto-currencies.

The Chinese central bank's announcement on September 4 meant that firms would no longer be able to issue electronic currency units to raise funds.

Following the decision, the National Internet Finance Association of China said last week there was "no legal basis for platforms which engage in the trading of various forms of 'virtual currencies'".

The association, which was created by the central bank, warned on its website that such currencies are "increasingly used as a tool in criminal activities such as money laundering, drug trafficking, smuggling, and illegal fundraising".

The central bank's move was seen as a way for Beijing to gain control over crypto-currencies, which are created using blockchain technology and are sold and bought online without any government regulation.

In an attempt to halt capital flight overseas and clean up its financial system, Beijing began early this year to tighten controls on bitcoin trading platforms by restricting, in particular, transactions considered excessively speculative.

The two main Chinese platforms, BTCC and Okcoin which operate in yuan, accounted for 22 percent of the world trade in bitcoins in early September, according to reference website bitcoinity.org.

European companies suffer from "promise fatigue" over China's failure to follow through on pledges to open its market, the EU Chamber of Commerce in China said Tuesday.

The chamber issued an annual 400-page report detailing the regulatory barriers that continue to hinder investment in the world's second-largest economy.

European businesses are "suffering from accumulated 'promise fatigue', having witnessed a litany of assurances over recent years that never quite materialised," the position paper said.

The chamber urged the ruling Communist Party to "supplant words with concrete actions and provide reciprocal access to its market".

The restrictions imposed on foreign investments force companies from abroad to partner with local firms and often share vital technology -- if they are not barred altogether from accessing a certain market, the chamber said.

Chinese firms face no such restrictions in EU markets, Chamber president Mats Harborn told reporters prior to the report's release.

"We are now calling for the abolition of foreign investment laws," he said, stating that they made China's investment climate too complex, unpredictable and opaque to attract foreign capital.

"The numbers speak for themselves: Chinese investments in Europe rose 77 percent last year, while EU investments in China fell by a quarter," Harborn said. EU investment fell a further 23 percent in the first quarter of 2017.

A May survey published by the Chamber showed 54 percent of EU companies operating in China felt they were treated worse than local counterparts.

A study in January by the American Chamber of Commerce in China found more than four in five US companies feel the country is less welcoming to foreign businesses than in the past.

On Monday, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer slammed China's approach to its economy, calling Beijing's policies an "unprecedented" trade threat to which the World Trade Organization was not prepared to respond.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang retorted at a regular press briefing Tuesday that "China firmly supports an open world economy and improves its business environment. We are the advocate, contributor and architect of the multilateral trade regime".

Responding to the EU Chamber's concerns, he praised the country's "great achievements" since it began market reforms in the late 70s, stating: "I don't understand why certain parties would doubt our reform and opening up, which benefits both China and the world."

- Cheese and cybersecurity -

The lack of access belies the rhetoric of Chinese leaders.

In January, President Xi Jinping hailed globalisation at the World Economic Forum in Davos and insisted that China was committed to "opening up".

Later that month a government circular pledged to "create an environment of fair competition" and "strengthen efforts to attract foreign investment".

But foreign firms still worry about the business climate in the Asian giant.

In recent weeks, Chinese customs officials barred the import of certain mould-ripened cheeses containing cultures traditionally used in Europe, including Camembert, Brie and Roquefort.

The sudden move came with little explanation, taking effect even though new national food safety standards for cheese more than two years in development had not yet been announced.

"It's very surprising, and we can't understand the rationale behind it," said Harborn.

New Chinese rules to begin October 1 that require inspection certificates even for certain low-risk food products were "out of line with international practice", the EU Chamber report stated, and could dramatically reduce agriculture, food and beverage imports.

Harborn also expressed concern over China's strict new cybersecurity law, which since its implementation on June 1 has required that tech companies store user data inside the country, among other things.

Without greater transparency on China's part, the vaguely worded legislation would likely further bar fair competition and undermine trust, he said.

"A lack of trust is really detrimental for attracting foreign investment."

TRADE WARS
Beijing, Shanghai shut down bitcoin exchanges: media
Beijing (AFP) Sept 19, 2017
Banking regulators in Beijing and Shanghai have ordered local cryptocurrency exchanges to shut down, state media reported Tuesday, in the latest blow to the once flourishing Chinese market for virtual money. A Beijing-based regulator required all exchanges in the city to cease operations by 6:00 pm on September 20, according to the official Xinhua news agency. Shanghai's exchanges were a ... read more

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