Exhibitors stand by medical equipment of General Electric during the 2023 World Health Expo held in Wuhan. But Market acces to the EU might become problematic. (Photo by Getty Images)


EU launches investigation into Chinese medical device market


The European Commission launched an investigation on Wednesday into Chinese public procurement of medical devices, in the latest move to try to protect European Union producers from what it says could be unfair competition.

The probe – which Beijing swiftly criticised – is meant to determine if European suppliers have been granted fair access in China, the EU’s official journal said.

If it concludes that they have not, it could lead to the bloc placing restrictions on Chinese medical device companies bidding in EU public tenders.

The probe is the first under the EU International Procurement Instrument, which aims to promote reciprocity in access to international public procurement markets, following long-running complaints from European companies and governments over access to the Chinese market.

It comes just a day after a Chinese security equipment company was raided by the European Commission at its Dutch and Polish offices.

And, with the EU flexing its trade muscles, it also follows the launch of a major EU probe which the Commission kicked off in October to assess whether to impose punitive tariffs against cheaper Chinese electric vehicle imports which Brussels says are benefiting from state subsidies.

The EU is also looking at subsidies received by Chinese suppliers of wind turbines and solar power destined for Europe.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz lobbied for better market access for German firms in China in talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping this month.

“For some time now, the European Union has frequently used its economic and trade toolbox and trade remedy measures, sending out protectionist signals, targeting Chinese enterprises and damaging the image of the European Union,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a regular news briefing when asked about the medical devices probe.

“The EU has always boasted that it is the most open market in the world, but of course what the outside world sees is that the EU is moving step by step towards protectionism,” he said, adding the EU should “stop using all kinds of excuses to suppress and restrict Chinese enterprises for no reason”.

The EU official journal listed a number of ways in which the Commission suspected China was unfairly favouring Chinese bidders, including a “Buy China” policy, restrictions on imports and conditions leading to abnormally low bids that profit-oriented companies could not offer.

“The Commission’s preliminary assessment is that the above measures and practices result in a de jure and de facto serious and recurrent impairment of access of (European) Union economic operators,” the EU journal said.

An indicative list of the categories of medical devices affected includes orthopaedic appliances, dental, veterinary and surgical devices and furniture, gauze and bandages.

The Commission has invited China to submit its views and also to enter consultations with the Commission to eliminate or remedy the alleged measures and practices, the journal said.

The investigation is to be concluded within nine months, although the Commission can extend this period by a further five months.