VIENNA, May 21 (Xinhua) -- Trade between Austria and China has been booming in recent years, but there is still room for improvement, an Austrian expert believes.
Speaking to Xinhua, Christoph Matznetter, vice president of the Austrian Economic Chambers (WKO) and former member of the Austrian National Council, the lower house of the Austrian Parliament, said that Austrian companies have been continuously expanding their activities in China as the liberalization of trade there has opened up more opportunities.
Chinese companies have likewise seen opportunities in the Austrian market, such as through the purchase of the aerospace company FACC and the decision by rolling stock manufacturer CRRC ZELC to base its European headquarters in the Austrian capital.
Matznetter said that plans by Austrian rail operator Westbahn to replace its fleet with new trains produced by CRRC signal intentions to develop business relations further. Once completed, Westbahn's would be the first Chinese-made trains in operation in Europe.
Austria has a rich history in manufacturing trains and trams, he said, having already done so locally for foreign companies Siemens and Bombardier.
Should the world's largest rail manufacturer CRRC decide to build trains in Europe, this could turn into a very positive arrangement for both sides, the expert said.
Austria also has significant expertise in high-tech areas, such as waste management. Matznetter noted that Vienna incinerates its municipal waste. Rather than producing more CO2 emissions, it uses an advanced filtration system, which means that a highly environmentally-friendly result is achieved.
Water management, mechanical engineering and smart city development are further areas where Austria has much to offer, Matznetter said, along with cooperation in researching future technologies, as seen in quantum communications.
The future of trade and business ties between Austria and China is dependent on several factors, chief among which is how the global economy develops in the coming years.
SHIFTING TRADE PATTERNS
China's massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) could provide further impetus to trade with Europe, Matznetter said, with the current developments in transpacific trade potentially leading to a change in trade patterns.
He pointed out the protectionist and isolationist policies currently being espoused by the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump, with trade barriers being erected just when many thought these had been a thing of the past.
This demonstrates a lack of understanding of the way global economy works, Matznetter argued, with history having already shown that these practices lead to unwelcome results.
Should the Trump administration continue along this course, however, it could lead to a strengthening of ties between China and Europe, as the former turns to its other global trading partners to do business.
China is currently Europe's second largest trading partner behind the U.S., this could change though in the future, Matznetter said. Furthermore, China is on its way to becoming the world's largest economy, he noted.
China's plans to further open up its market augurs well for trade between the two blocs, he said.
These developments show the rest of the world that strategic cooperation is bound to render Washington's protectionist approach less effective.
Should the actions of the U.S. administration lead to a trade war, however, this would be harmful to the global economy as a whole. China's insistence on free trade is thus highly important for the other countries.
All those willing to cooperate should be invited to participate in free trade. Matznetter even suggested a future "Eurasian" trade zone, which would include the EU, China, Russia and other Asian countries.
BRI AS PLATFORM
The Belt and Road Initiative is already a step in this direction, he added.
According to Matznetter, while Washington has exerted pressure on several countries, such as Austria, to minimize their participation in the Initiative, the Austrian government would still like to be part of it.
He denounced what he called fear-mongering about China, citing as an example the case of telecommunications giant Huawei, which has been prevented from providing 5G mobile services in some countries.
The opportunities for cooperation under the BRI are numerous, he said, noting that up to now the projects have been considered on an "either-or" basis -- i.e., either a western company is involved or a Chinese one.
Companies from both sides could, however, complement one another, he said, citing the field of hydropower as an example.
Sometimes one side provides the parts and the other carries out construction and installation, other times it's the other way round.
Austrian companies are very good at building tunnels and bridges and also at constructing rail lines amid difficult conditions, while Chinese companies have expertise in building trains and other related equipment, he said.
In "third countries", Austria and China could provide joint financing, such as under the BRI, to see new and ambitious projects through, he said.
Here there is also room for improvement, he argued, noting that today a European company would find it difficult to secure a contract to build a rail line in China, much the same as a Chinese company would find this difficult in Europe.
The exchange of know-how is also a massive opportunity for both sides in future, such as in the construction industry. Both the EU and China have considerable know-how in the construction of infrastructure, apartment buildings, roads, railways and other things. Both could profit greatly from such exchanges.
Matznetter said the WKO would gladly serve as a platform for such cooperation.
There are already six Austrian foreign trade centers in China, he noted, giving the WKO a presence on the ground there.
In these centers, Austrian and Chinese companies and individuals can receive assistance if they want to do business and collaborate.
Matznetter said the WKO sees to it that channels of communication are open, and that cooperation takes place with various Chinese provinces and fellow economic chambers there to provide up-to-date information and also to enable members to network with each other.