| 13 April 2024, Saturday |

EU escalates WTO case against China over patents, Lithuania

The European Commission announced on Wednesday that, after failing to reach a bilateral settlement in two trade disputes with China, it had asked the World Trade Organization to establish adjudicating panels.

The two disputes, which were both brought before the WTO at the beginning of the year, are about alleged Chinese restrictions on trade with EU member Lithuania and on the ability of EU companies to use foreign courts to defend their high-tech patents.

The EU executive, which oversees trade policy for the 27-member European Union, said both sets of measures were highly damaging to European businesses, with those against Lithuania disrupting intra-EU trade and supply chains.

The Commission formally requested consultations with China at the WTO, the first step in a WTO challenge. Such consultations rarely resolve disputes.

The EU executive said the WTO panels would likely be formed early in 2023, noting that panel proceedings can last up to one and a half years.


China said it will handle the EU’s trade disputes request in accordance with the WTO’s dispute settlement procedure, according to a statement by the commerce ministry.

The panel requests come as the European Union reviews its stance towards China, seeing it increasingly as a competitor and system rival than a partner. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also led EU leaders to express concern about economic reliance on China, which has taken a more neutral stance on the conflict.

The United States and the EU held the third ministerial-level meeting on Monday of their Trade and Technology Council (TTC), designed to enhance regulatory cooperation and present a united front against China.

An EU official said the timing of the requests was not linked to the TTC, but reflected the work required to build both cases. In the Lithuania case, many of China’s actions were not published measures, which are typically the focus for WTO litigation.

One of the disputes concerns China’s downgrading of diplomatic ties with Lithuania from December 2021 and pressure on multinationals to sever links with the Baltic nation of 2.8 million people after it allowed Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in Vilnius.

The Commission said China had also placed import bans on alcohol, beef, dairy, logs and peat shipped from Lithuania on the basis of plant and food safety rules without proving the bans were justified.

In the other case, the Commission said Chinese courts had since August 2020 issued “anti-suit injunctions” that prevent European companies from seeking redress over standard-essential patents in non-Chinese courts, such as EU courts.

The Commission said Chinese manufacturers used the injunctions to pressure patent rights holders to grant them cheaper access to European technology.

  • Reuters