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China seeks to boost trade with ex-communist Europe

China's Premier Li Keqiang addresses the meeting of heads of government from Central and Eastern European countries and China in Bucharest N
China's Premier Li Keqiang addresses the meeting of heads of government from Central and Eastern European countries and China in Bucharest N

By Ioana Patran

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - China wants to double trading volumes with central and eastern members of the European Union in the next five years, Li Keqiang said on his first visit to the former communist bloc as premier.

China and the EU announced at a summit last week that the two sides would begin talks on a treaty aimed at boosting investment, which lags behind burgeoning trade, and tackling thorny market access issues.

Li, who arrived for an official visit to Romania and a summit with prime ministers from emerging EU states on Monday, said in his opening speech that "because of similar development stages" China and the region have much to offer each other.

His predecessor, Wen Jiabao, said last year that China would set up a $10 billion credit line and a $500 million investment fund for eastern and southern Europe.

"China-CEE trade accounts for one tenth of China-EU trade," said Li. "We need to strive to double our trade volumes ... in next five years ... We need to work together to build large scale infrastructure projects."

The Chinese Premier and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said when they met last week in Beijing that a potential agreement would increase openness and deepen cooperation as well as boosting investment, which has not kept pace with trade growth.

Europe is China's most important trading partner and for the EU, China is second only to the United States. But the bilateral relationship has been rattled by trade rows ranging from steel and wine to solar panels.

In 2012, bilateral trade in goods and services reached 483.5 billion euros ($653 billion), according to the EU delegation to China. China exported 289.7 billion euros in goods to Europe last year compared with Europe's 143.9 billion in goods to China.

However, EU imports from China last year decreased for the first time since the global financial crisis, down 0.9 percent.

On Monday, officials said China agreed to start cooperation on the construction of a railway linking Hungary and Serbia and China's General Nuclear Power signaled it could invest in a project to add reactors to Romania's sole nuclear power plant owned by state-controlled Nuclearelectrica.

($1 = 0.7404 euros)

(Writing by Radu Marinas; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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