China's Xi pledges rise in imports from CEE countries, vaccine support
China aims to double CEE farm imports in next 5 yrs -Xi
Setting up summit more 'complex' this time, Beijing says
Adds Xi quote, vice foreign minister comment at press briefing
BEIJING, Feb 9 (Reuters) - China plans to import goods worth more than $170 billion from central and eastern European (CEE) countries in the next five years, doubling its purchases of agricultural products, President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday.
Xi, chairing a virtual summit between China and 17 CEE countries including 12 European Union member states, also offered cooperation in the provision of coronavirus vaccines to the group.
Trade between China and CEE countries has grown about 85% over the past nine years ago, Xi was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.
"We need to deepen agricultural cooperation, in a bid to double CEE countries' agricultural exports to China and raise two-way agricultural trade by 50% over the next five years," he added in his address to the so-called "17+1" summit.
Asked at a subsequent press briefing about concerns among CEE countries over trade imbalances with China, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Qin Gang said there were structural and competitive reasons for such problems.
He said that while consumption in China was very high, Chinese shoppers had many options and other countries should strive to "increase their products' competitiveness".
The 27-nation EU in 2019 declared China, with the world's second-largest economy, "a systemic rival" and next week plans to set out a future trade policy that aims to enforce global rules and ensure equal market access.
Qin said arrangements for the latest 17+1 summit had been more "complex" than before. "Difficulties increased somewhat (due to the positions) of a few member countries (as well as)...interference from the outside", he said, without elaborating.
Lithuania sent only its transport minister and Estonia its foreign minister, rather than government leaders, to the summmit out of apparent concern for Chinese policies.
Qin also said a plane carrying one million doses of Sinopharm's 1099.HK COVID-19 vaccine arrived in non-EU CEE nation Serbia last month, making it the first European country to receive the Chinese shot for inoculation programmes. Qin said a Sinopharm shipment to EU member Hungary would arrive soon.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley, Lusha Zhang and Ryan Woo in Beijing, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius Writing by Tom Daly Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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