Emmanuel Macron's visit is timed to ease some of the tensions that are stifling global commerce, with the European Union asking China to open its markets further and the U.S. and China in a bitter fight over tariffs.
Macron arrived late Monday in Shanghai, where he visited a sprawling import fair before traveling to Beijing for a state visit on Wednesday. Speaking at the International Import Expo in Shanghai, Macron said that the EU and China had reached an agreement for the mutual protection of food and alcohol products, to be formally signed Wednesday.
"It's a step forward in this relationship and it's very important," Macron said, alongside Phil Hogan, the EU agriculture commissioner. Macron's office said the deal will provide the legal basis to fight counterfeiting of about 100 European and 100 Chinese agricultural products whose quality and characteristics are linked to their geographical origin.
Amid 26 protected French products are Champagne, wines including those from the Bordeaux and Burgundy regions, Cognac liquor and cheeses like Roquefort. Macron's trip comes as France and its European partners are demanding China make good on commitments to boost imports of agricultural products and manufactured goods while opening its market for financial products and other services.
France and the EU have joined the U.S. in complaints over Chinese trade practices they consider unfair. Macron said his priority was to discuss cooperation on the economy, technology and climate - "three decisive issues."
He pushed for the completion by next year of an investment agreement that is currently under discussion between the EU and China. Meanwhile, China is grappling with slumping demand that has kept economic growth to just 6% in the latest quarter, the lowest level in almost 30 years.
During a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to France in March, China signed an agreement to buy 300 aircraft from European plane maker Airbus for an estimated $18 billion at list prices. Macron called that an "excellent signal" that shows the strength and reliability of the relations between the two countries.
In all, 15 business deals on energy, the food industry, transport and other sectors were signed during the visit, in addition to other bilateral agreements. Macron also arranged for German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to meet with Xi during his Paris visit, underscoring France's push for a united European front in trade talks with China.
At a daily briefing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the staging of the import fair demonstrated China's willingness to open its domestic markets. "By doing this, we can also meet our domestic needs to pursue high-quality economic development, build a new pattern of opening up and constantly improve people's livelihood," Geng said.
"So, I would like to tell the European side that please be assured, the Chinese side will spare no effort in fulfilling its promises and commitments," he said.
Sylvie Corbet reported from Paris.