BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is ready to join China in fighting protectionism worldwide but Beijing also needs to show it can play fair on trade and investment, the bloc's trade chief said on Monday.
U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese imports, blaming China's trade practices for U.S. job losses.
Beijing says it will work with Washington to resolve any trade disputes, but state media have warned of retaliation if Trump takes the first steps towards a trade war.
"If others around the world want to use trade as a weapon, I want to use it as a tonic, a vital ingredient for prosperity and progress," Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told a business conference on EU-China relations, without explicitly mentioning Trump or the United States in her comments.
"If others are closing their doors, ours are still open - as long as the trade is fair. And we will give China every opportunity to uphold its pledge against protectionism, and towards a multilateral agenda, too," she said.
But Malmstrom added that "many barriers and irritants" remained to EU-China trade and said economic relations were far from balanced.
Trade with China was worth one fifth of EU imported goods but only one tenth of its goods exports. Chinese investment flows into the EU rose to a record high of almost 40 billion euros (£34.5 billion) last year, while EU investment into China fell to a 10-year low of less than 8 billion.
Malmstrom said she hoped the latter issue could be addressed with an EU-China investment agreement, currently under negotiation. She said she hoped for a "new impulse" in talks this year.
The EU commissioner praised Chinese President Xi Jinping's speech at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos last month that portrayed China as the leader of a globalised world where only international cooperation can solve the big problems.
Malmstrom said she agreed with Xi that a trade war would be catastrophic for all parties, adding that the Chinese leader's big challenge this year would be to match rhetoric with reform.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Gareth Jones)