EU's Solana to meet in Vienna with China's foreign minister

China's foreign minister meets Friday with top European Union officials, at a time when the EU is pressing its second-largest trading partner to open its markets to exports and Beijing is fending off accusations that it is flooding the 25-nation bloc with cheap knockoffs. Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing was to hold talks with his Austrian counterpart, Ursula Plassnik, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, as well as with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, external affairs commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Finland's foreign minister, Erkki Tuomioja.

An EU arms embargo remains in place on China due to the country's poor human rights record, and EU officials have been urging China to open its markets to more European imports and take concrete steps to contain the production and sale of pirated or counterfeit goods.

The European Commission is investigating charges that China is breaking World Trade Organization guidelines by selling a wide range of products below cost, leading to allegations of market dumping. Among those products are leather and sports shoes from China that critics contend are undercutting European shoemakers. Last month, EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou warned China that it also needs to improve the safety of toys and other products it exports to the bloc.

Kyprianou said Chinese goods accounted for almost half the 700 cases reported to the EU last year of consumer goods presenting a health and safety risk. Toys and electrical appliances were the products most affected, he said. Officials say China is the source of more than 80 percent of all toys imported to the EU.

China's booming economy has made it the world's No. 3 trading nation and the third-largest recipient of foreign investment.

Its biggest trading partner is the EU, with two-way trade estimated at Ђ 180 billion (US$217 billion) in 2005, up 22.6 percent from the year before, according to Chinese customs figures released last month. China is the EU's second-largest trading partner after the United States, accounting for 12 percent of all EU imports in 2004, mostly machinery, vehicles and other manufactured goods, reports the AP.


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