Britain joins EU-China WTO dispute over Lithuania

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An attendant walks past EU and China flags ahead of the EU-China High Level Economic Dialogue at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

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GENEVA, Feb 7 (Reuters) – Britain will join a growing number of Western countries in backing the European Union in a case against China at the World Trade Organization over its alleged trade restrictions on Lithuania, said its trade minister, in a move against “coercive trade practices”.

The EU last month launched a challenge to the Geneva-based trade body, accusing China of discriminatory trade practices against Lithuania that it says threaten the integrity of the EU’s single market.

“We will ask to participate in the EU’s consultation at the WTO on these measures as a third party to ensure that together we fight economic coercion in trade,” Anne-Marie Trevelyan said in a tweet.

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Australia and Taiwan have already signaled their intention to join the consultations.

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said on Twitter on Monday that the United States also supports their case.

The office of U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Washington often joins trade disputes as a third party, and Tai has previously expressed support for Lithuania.

Vilnius is under pressure from China, which claims to democratically govern Taiwan as its own territory, to reverse a decision last year allowing the island to open a de facto embassy in the capital under its own name.

China has downgraded diplomatic ties with the Baltic nation and pressured multinationals to cut ties with it.

The WTO challenge gives the parties 60 days to work together to reach a settlement. If none are reached, the EU can choose to launch a formal dispute that would set up a WTO panel to consider its claims against China.

A Geneva-based trade official said the participation of other Western countries, assuming they are not blocked by Beijing, would be “helpful” for the EU case.

“If other members plead on your behalf and present arguments, I think the panel will consider that,” he said.

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Additional reporting by David Lawder in Washington; Editing by Andrea Ricci

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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