France refuses to support an EU-China investment deal if the issue of forced labor isn't addressed, Franck Riester, France’s junior minister for trade, told Le Monde.
"We can't facilitate investment in China if we don't work to abolish forced labor,” he said.
Trade deals should be used as leverage "to advance social issues," Riester said. He also warned that the deal leads to more market access, but not to investment protection, "even though it's important to protect our companies from the risks of sudden nationalisation."
Brussels and Beijing hoped to clinch a landmark investment deal before the end of the year. But talks between EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, tentatively scheduled for Tuesday morning, were postponed after opposition from both the incoming U.S. administration and from EU capitals.
Poland on Tuesday already urged the EU not to rush things and to cooperate more with Washington. According to Riester, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands support the French skepticism.
One EU diplomat confirmed that a "substantial group of countries" pushed back against the Commission this week on the EU-China deal, both because of the issue of forced labor and the lack of investment protection for EU companies in China.
A Commission spokesperson could not give more info about a future call between Dombrovskis and Liu He, saying that "both sides are in continuous contact in order to address outstanding issues."