EU-China sign deal to protect iconic regional products

EU Trade Commissioner-designate Phil Hogan, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping next to French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan at a signing ceremony inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Nov. 6, 2019. (Jason Lee/Pool Photo via AP)
Updated 06 November 2019

EU-China sign deal to protect iconic regional products

  • Beijing and Paris sign $15 billion contracts during Macron visit

BRUSSELS/BEIJING: The EU and China struck a deal on Tuesday to protect the geographic origins of 200 regional products like Roquefort cheese or Pu’er tea.

The accord makes good on promises made at the EU-China summit in April, and was finalized during a visit to China by French President Emmanuel Macron and European officials.

The food label deal comes as both sides have struggled for years to make way on a long delayed EU-China investment deal with Brussels extremely concerned about the lack of market access in China for foreign companies and the prevalence of state subsidies.

EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan described the deal as a “win for both parties” that would strengthen trade ties and a protect farmers and consumers.

“Consumers are willing to pay a higher price, trusting the origin and authenticity of these products, while further rewarding farmers,” he said.

China is the EU’s second-largest market for agricultural exports, representing €12.8 billion ($14.2 billion) between September 2018 and August 2019.

At the moment, goods now with protected “geographical indicators” represent 9 percent of this total.

The deal will go into effect before the end of next year, after it has been ratified by EU national leaders and members in the European Parliament.

Four years later the list will be expanded to cover another 175 products from each side.

 

China, France deals

China and France signed contracts totaling $15 billion during a visit by President Emmanuel Macron, a Chinese government official said at a news briefing on Wednesday.

Deals were struck in the fields of aeronautics, energy and agriculture, including approval for 20 French companies to export poultry and beef to China.

They also agreed to expand a protocol for poultry exports reached earlier this year to include ducks and geese, according to a statement from the French president’s office.

Energy deals included a memorandum of understanding between Beijing Gas Group and French utility Engie to collaborate on a liquefied natural gas terminal and storage in the northern city of Tianjin.

An executive with Beijing Gas Group told Reuters that the cooperation with Engie will also include the French firm supplying membrane technology, used for gas leak prevention, in the massive gas storage projects that China is embarking on.

Among other deals, French company Total will set up a joint venture with China's Shenergy Group to distribute LNG by truck in the Yangtze River Delta.

The two countries also agreed to reach an agreement by the end of January 2020 on the cost and location of a nuclear fuel reprocessing facility to be built by Orano, formerly known as Areva.

Previous plans to build the plant in Lianyungang in eastern China’s Jiangsu province were canceled after protests.


Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

Updated 06 June 2020

Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

  • Suitors wage backstage battle to rescue debt-stricken Canadian circus icon
  • Among the potential bidders is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who fouded the acrobatic troupe in 1984

MONTREAL: Its shows canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an already heavily indebted Cirque du Soleil’s fight for survival has invited an intense backstage battle to try to save the Canadian cultural icon.

High on a list of potential suitors is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who founded the acrobatic troupe in 1984 but later sold it.

“Its revival will have to be done at the right price. And not at all costs,” said the 60-year-old, determined not to see his creation sold to private interests.

The billionaire clown said after “careful consideration,” he decided “with a great team” to pursue a bid, but offered no details.

Under his leadership, the Cirque had set up big tops in more than 300 cities around the world, delighting audiences with contemporary circus acts set to music but without the usual trappings of lions, elephants and bears.

Then the pandemic hit, forcing the company in March to cancel 44 shows worldwide, from Las Vegas to Tel Aviv, Moscow to Melbourne, and lay off 4,679 acrobats and technicians, or 95 percent of its workforce.

Hurtling toward bankruptcy, the global entertainment giant and pride of Canada commissioned a bank in early May to examine its options, including a possible sale.

Meanwhile, shareholders ponied up $50 million in bridge financing for its “short-term liquidity needs.”

Laliberte, the first clown to rocket to the International Space Station in 2009, ceded control of the Cirque for $1 billion in 2015.

It has since fallen into the hands of American investment firm TPG Capital (55 percent stake) and China’s Fosun (25 percent), which also owns Club Med and Thomas Cook travel. The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ) retains the last 20 percent.

The institutional investor, which manages public pension plans and insurance programs in Quebec, bought Laliberte’s last remaining 10 percent stake in the business in February, just before the pandemic.

Since 2015, the Cirque has embarked on costly acquisitions and renovations of permanent performance halls, while its creative spirit waned, according to critics in the Quebec press.

Meanwhile, it piled on more than $1 billion in debt.

Fearing that the Cirque would be “sold to foreign interests,” the Quebec government recently offered it a conditional loan of $200 million to help relaunch its shows as restrictions on large gatherings start to be eased worldwide.

But the agreement in principle is conditional on the Cirque headquarters remaining in Montreal and the province being allowed to buy US and Chinese stakes in the company at an unspecified time in the future, “at market value” and with “probably a local partner,” said Quebec Minister of the Economy Pierre Fitzgibbon.

“The state does not want to operate the circus, but the circus is too important to Quebec (to leave it to foreigners),” he said.

In addition to Laliberte, other prospective buyers include Quebecor, the telecoms and media giant of tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau, whose opening lowball bid was outright rejected.

“It is essentially the value and reputation of the brand” that has piqued interest in the company, says Michel Magnan, corporate governance chair at Concordia University in Montreal.

But “as long as there are restrictions on gatherings of people, the future is not very rosy” for the Cirque, he said.

Several challenges await, according to Magnan.

“There were a lot of people working in all of these shows. Where are they now? What are they doing? How are they doing? In what shape are they, what state of mind?” he said.

“The more time passes, the more this expertise risks evaporating.”

Small consolation: The Cirque resumed its performances on Wednesday in Hangzhou, China, five months after a coronavirus outbreak in the city.