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Chinese battery giant CATL looks to set up R&D centres in Hong Kong to underpin technology exports

Sign of Chinese battery maker Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd (CATL) is seen on its building in Ningde

By Sarah Wu

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese battery giant CATL is in discussions to set up research and development centres in Hong Kong to create new technologies that can be licensed abroad and within the industry, its chairman told reporters on Monday.

The potential R&D expansion in Hong Kong aligns with CATL's strategy to place greater emphasis on exporting battery technologies, not just batteries, as Chinese electric vehicles (EVs) and batteries face intensifying scrutiny from foreign governments.

Chairman Robin Zeng, who founded the world's largest battery maker, made the comments ahead of a meeting of China's parliament, the National People's Congress. He is a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a top advisory body of experts, business leaders and representatives from other political parties, which held its opening meeting of the annual gathering on Monday.Some of CATL's licensing attempts abroad have encountered roadblocks. Ford last year announced plans to invest $3.5 billion to build an EV battery plant in Michigan with help from CATL's technology, but the deal has drawn the ire of some U.S. lawmakers.

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Meanwhile, concerns about China's clout in the EV battery supply chain have extended to the country's rising status as a vehicle exporter. Exports have been a driving force for growth for automakers in China as demand at home weakens.

The European Commission last year launched a probe into China's EV subsidies.

When asked about European concerns over Chinese overcapacity, Zeng said Europe does not have enough "higher-quality" products yet.

The EU probe does not worry Zeng, who said the EV industry has received "regular support from the government" as China pursues its carbon neutrality goals.

While the European market has seen a slight slowdown, with electric vehicle batteries considered too expensive, more battery plant investments there will enable further growth, Zeng said.

He believes Germany will "catch up very quickly" in electrification and could be asking China for more EVs in a few years.

Earlier this month, the United States opened an investigation into whether Chinese vehicle imports pose national security risks and said it could impose restrictions on "connected" car technology.

Zeng said such concerns were unnecessary and could be resolved through communication.

(Reporting by Sarah Wu; Additional reporting by Brenda Goh and Zhang Yan; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Susan Fenton)