China’s strict zero-covid policy, in place since the beginning of the pandemic – and the associated extreme restrictions on entry are increasingly proving to be a threat to trade and investment in medium-sized mechanical and plant engineering. Long and unpredictable quarantine periods under sometimes undignified conditions, little reliance on statements by regional Chinese authorities and the extremely low number of flights to the People’s Republic means skilled workers from Europe are virtually no longer travelling to the country to carry out necessary installations or maintenance work on machinery.

“This is not only an enormous nuisance for our member companies with economic consequences. China is also cutting into its own flesh with this restrictive entry policy, because it is blocking access to services as well as to new technologies,” says Ulrich Ackermann, head of VDMA Foreign Trade. “We call on the government in Beijing to abolish the quarantine for adequately vaccinated business travellers as well as the cumbersome and non-transparent visa requirements. Companies also need a significantly expanded range of flights to China again in to be able to fulfil their contractual obligations there.”

The extent of the anger among SMEs about the restrictive entry policy is shown by a large number of corresponding statements from the VDMA membership.

“Our professionals had to spend a total of 616 days in quarantine on 29 trips to China. This is psychologically very stressful, also because the quarantine duration is repeatedly changed at short notice. Sudden lock-downs at the site of operation entail the risk of no longer being able to leave or reach the site. A positive Corona test result risks camp placement without adequate supplies or language assistance,” said Ali Bindernagel, chairman Friedrich Kocks. “We demand China waive PU invitations for visa applications, a shortened quarantine period, accommodation in hospital and not in Corona camps, and a resumption of scheduled flights to China.”

Restrictions also hinder exports. Since the beginning of this year, exports of mechanical and plant engineering to China, which are closely related to the travel restrictions, have fallen noticeably. From January to April, exports to the People’s Republic fell by 8.5% to €5.9bn. Exports to the United States, on the other hand, increased by 13% to €7.3bn in the same period.

“China is and remains an important market for medium-sized companies as well,” explains VDMA department head Ackermann. “But in view of all the obstructions, more and more companies will re-evaluate the business risks on the ground and start looking for alternative sales markets and production locations in Asia,” he adds.

Jennifer Eagle, editor