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EU AND CHINA AGREE MAJOR INVESTMENT DEAL

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EUThe European Union and China on Wednesday approved "in principle" a major investment pact that Brussels hopes will open up lucrative opportunities, despite concerns about Beijing's rights record.

EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel agreed with China's President Xi Jinping to wrap up seven years of painstaking negotiations during a video conference that also included German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French leader Emmanuel Macron. 

The bloc said the deal, which is still expected to take months to be finalised and fully ratified as a legal text, was of "major economic significance" and had seen China commit to "an unprecedented level of market access for EU investors". 

China's state-run Xinhua news agency cited Xi saying the agreement "demonstrates China's determination and confidence to promote high-level opening up". 

And Xi dubbed Europe and China "the world's dual major forces, markets and civilisations."

Von der Leyen, meanwhile, tweeted: "This agreement will uphold our interests and promotes our core values. It provides us a lever to eradicate forced labour."

Europe has long sought to increase access for its companies to China's vast markets, but Beijing's lack of respect for international labour standards had remained a final hurdle to an agreement.

Brussels insists the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) is the "most ambitious" anyone has convinced China to sign -- lowering barriers for EU businesses, bolstering competition and strengthening environmental protection.

The bloc says it has also managed to get Beijing to agree to "continued and sustained efforts" to ratify International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions on forced labour.

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