Europe Brings a Lawsuit to a China Fight


E.U. Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis speaks during a press conference in Brussels, on Dec. 7, 2021.


Olivier Matthys/Associated Press

Sometimes we wonder what world European leaders think they’re living in. The European Union on Thursday responded to


trade assault against its member state Lithuania by filing a . . . complaint at the World Trade Organization. Talk about bringing a quill pen to a gun fight.

The EU said it will challenge China’s “discriminatory trade practices” against Lithuania. “Launching a WTO case is not a step we take lightly. However, after repeated failed attempts to resolve the issue bilaterally, we see no other way forward,” EU trade commissioner

Valdis Dombrovskis

said. “The EU is determined to act as one and act fast against measures in breach of WTO rules, which threaten the integrity of our Single Market.” How “determined” does that really sound?

Though China denies it, Beijing has effectively imposed a trade embargo on Lithuania after Vilnius upgraded ties with Taiwan. China’s restrictions on imports, exports and services have also hit other European goods that use Lithuanian components. Reuters reported in December that the Chinese government had pressured a German car-parts maker to stop using Lithuanian-produced parts in its supply chain.

The Chinese foreign ministry responded Thursday that the EU’s complaint is “groundless and inconsistent” and warned Brussels to be “wary” of Lithuania, as if the tiny Baltic nation is the trade menace. Beijing claims its beef with Vilnius is political and not economic, but the Chinese Communist Party uses trade as a political weapon. It is also punishing Australia for daring to call for an independent probe into the origins of Covid-19.

Going to the WTO has symbolic value, but it isn’t known for speedily resolving disputes. The EU and China can begin “consultations” that could drag on for months. If those fail, the case would go to a WTO panel subject to appeal. The whole process could take years, and meanwhile Lithuania suffers.

The only language China understands here is comparable economic force. If Beijing won’t stop punishing Lithuania, EU trade retaliation will send a stronger message than a legal filing at the WTO. Killing the EU-China investment deal, agreed to in principle more than a year ago but still not ratified, would get Beijing’s attention.

If the EU can’t stand up for its single market to defend its weakest members, then what good is it?

Wonder Land: Joe Biden’s foreign policy is about protecting Democrats’ domestic spending, not U.S. security. Images: Getty Images/KCNA/Reuters Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the January 29, 2022, print edition as ‘The EU Brings a Lawsuit to a Trade Fight.’


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