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Brussels, 6th May 2004

Customs: co-operation agreement initialled with People's Republic of China

An agreement with the Government of the People's Republic of China on customs co-operation and mutual administrative assistance was initialled in Brussels on 6 May by Taxation and Customs Commissioner Frits Bolkestein and Minister Mu Xinsheng, Commissioner of Chinese Customs. The agreement aims to improve customs co-operation in order to facilitate trade, to increase security and combat terrorism, and to step up the fight against counterfeiting, piracy and customs fraud. The agreement was initialled on the margins of the visit of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to the EU institutions on 5 and 6 May and enjoys strong political support from both sides.

Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said: "This agreement will be an important step forward as it will facilitate trade and the fight against fraud and counterfeiting. It will also constitute a strong incentive to promote the most advanced customs standards and, more generally, customs co-operation between the EU and other Asian countries."

The agreement will provide a framework for increased cooperation between the parties with a view to simplifying customs procedures and facilitating trade in accordance with international customs standards. It will also set up a mechanism for mutual administrative assistance for exchanging information and carrying out inquiries, with a view to combating fraud against the two sides' respective customs legislation. It will therefore improve the effectiveness of the fight against fraud and counterfeiting while guaranteeing protection and confidentiality of information and respecting the purpose for which the data concerned has been collected.

China is the EU's second largest trading partner, with bilateral trade in 2003 exceeding €135 billion, which represents 6.9% of the EU's trade with the rest of the world.

The Commission negotiated the agreement with China on behalf of the European Community on the basis of a mandate it received from the Council on May 1997. This agreement is very similar to other agreements concluded by the EU with its major trading partner such as the United States, Canada, Korea, Hong Kong and India.

The formal conclusion of the agreement on behalf of the Community, expected during the second half of 2004, requires the adoption of a Decision by the EU's Council of Ministers following a proposal from the Commission.

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