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Interview: Europe should recognize China as market economy to further bilateral relationship: former Italian PM

by Matt Burgess

SYDNEY, July 9 (Xinhua) -- Maybe it is time for Europe to change policy and officially recognize China as a market economy to further the China-EU trade relationship, said former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta.

The key issue to creating links in the China-EU relationship is China's market economy status, Letta told Xinhua in an exclusive interview here.

Analysts believe this status could be approved in 2016, a year Letta predicts will be a major turning point for the China-EU relationship.

"It could be recognizing by the EU of the market economy status, it could be the year we can launch the free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations," Letta said.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made a strong appeal for the early conclusion of a bilateral trade agreement with the EU at the recent China-EU summit in Brussels at the end of June.

However, establishing a China-EU FTA will be a very complicated process, Letta said.

"There are many fields from agriculture to protection of intellectual property and so on and we need to solve all together, " Letta said.

Engagements in the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as well as the "Belt and Road" strategy are important steps in strengthening Europe's economic ties with Asia, Letta said.

The Silk Road Economic Belt, together with the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, commonly known as the "Belt and Road" initiatives, were proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.

"I think (the AIIB) was an important and decisive step on behalf of the Chinese leadership," Letta said. "It was important for EU countries to follow this step, to react in a positive mode. This is why Italy as well as the main EU countries decided to apply for the membership."

Letta, who is a visiting scholar at the University of Technology, Sydney, said Europe is too focused on domestic political issues, such as the Greek debt crisis, which is taking up too much of the member states' energy.

"I think the EU must focus the great opportunities we have around the world," Letta said.

In an on-stage conversation with former Australian Foreign Affairs minister and Director of the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) Bob Carr at the University of Technology, Sydney on Tuesday night, Letta said "I exactly think that the future of the world will be Asian-driven," noting that was why he is in Australia.

Letta said Australia was not susceptible to the "virus," the global financial crisis, because of the links with the Asian region.

"We need, as all western countries, change our mind, change our way to do business and to try to create permanent links," Letta said.

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