The European Union has asked China to further delay in the implementation of a controversial certification program for high-tech information security products.

Beijing has already delayed the regime by a year from its initially planned implementation date of May 1, 2009 after objections from foreign manufacturers who worry they could impede their ability to sell and produce in China.

The complex world of technical standards has become a flashpoint of trade friction between China and developed economies. Critics of the measures accuse Beijing of threatening to use home-grown rules to deter foreign competition.

EU trade chief Karel de Gucht said the EU had sent a letter asking for the delay and further consultations on the compulsory certification, which is due to come into effect on May 1.

“We are of the opinion that this is typically a trade irritant that has no real base in reality,” said de Gucht, who met Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming in Beijing.

“They are claiming that it has to do with security, but a lot of the provisions in that regulation, we cannot see what they have to do with security, so we are disputing it.”

Without the certification, products or the appliances that contain them will not be allowed to be sold out of factories in China, shipped, imported or used commercially in China, according to a 2008 announcement by China’s quality watchdog.

Among other issues, foreign manufacturers worry about potential violation of intellectual property rights.

Quid Pro Quo

China may exact a price for further concessions on certification requirements, de Gucht said, citing Chen’s comments on the EU granting market economy status for China.

Certification would not violate World Trade Organisation commitments as long as the rules apply equally to Chinese and foreign firms.

“What he said was “look, we have our WTO obligations and anything that goes beyond that, that is a matter for negotiation and a quid pro quo. If you ask for something, we’ll also ask for something,’ and then he mentioned the market economy status,” de Gucht said.

Chen also protested over developed countries’ restrictions on high-tech exports to China.

Foreign manufacturers have strongly protested about Chinese draft government procurement rules, detailed last year, that gave priority to locally developed products. New drafts somewhat soften that indigenous innovation requirement.

De Gucht also brought up European concerns over Chinese restrictions on raw material exports, which foreign manufacturers contend artificially raise the cost of those materials on international markets.

China defends the restrictions as a way to preserve scarce resources and force its local industries to move up the value chain.

China has requested a WTO panel on European tariffs on leather shoes, and says a European investigation into Chinese-made coated paper was discriminatory. (Reuters)