Thousands of protestors have rallied in Brussels to demand that EU officials do more to secure jobs and stop the flood of cheap Chinese imports. The EU has until year's end to decide on China's market status.
Thousands of European steelmakers encircled the EU's Berlaymont headquarters on Monday to demand that China be denied market economy status (MES). The designation would make it harder for the EU to raise barriers against Chinese products.
"We are marching on Brussels today by the thousands to give a clear message to EU policymakers: 'Say yes to jobs and fair trade and say no to market economy status for China,'" said Milan Nitzschke, a spokesman for the industry alliance AEGIS Europe, which helped organize the protest on Monday.
"Market economy status would leave Europe defenseless against a flood of Chinese imports that would wipe out European jobs and harm the environment," he added.
"Say 'no' to MES for China," read a banner carried by steelworkers in hardhats and fluorescent uniforms. Others used whistles and firecrackers to demand EU institutions to deny MES status for China, or risk tens of thousands of EU industry jobs.
Police estimated that over 5,200 people from 18 countries took part in Monday's demonstration, including managers and workers from not only the steel industry, but also from the glass, solar energy and ceramic sectors.
No 'philosophical discussion'
Top EU officials took part in a conference in Brussels on Monday to address the issues within the steel and other energy-intensive sectors.
At a news briefing on Monday, European Commission spokesman Daniel Rosario maintained that the decision would be strictly based on technical grounds.
"We are not engaging in a broader philosophical discussion on whether China is a market economy or not," he said. "This is a specific discussion in the very specific and strict framework of the anti-dumping legislation of the EU."
The European Commission, which handles trade matters for the EU's 28 member states, has until the end of the year to make a decision on China's status.
Jobs at risk
In 2001, China joined the World Trade Organization as a developing economy which was run by the state. They were promised a review within 15 years to possibly change their status.
China's lack of the designation has made it easier for the EU to impose an array of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on select Chinese products - including solar panels and ceramic tiles.
Although the United States and Canada oppose granting China market economy status, some worry that the EU may grant it in order to avoid angering Chinese authorities.
The steel sector employs some 330,000 people in the EU, but industry officials say hundreds of thousands of jobs are also at risk in other sectors.
rs/kms (AP, AFP, dpa)