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Germany demands more free trade guarantees on China Silk Road plan - minister

BEIJING (Reuters) - Germany warned on Sunday it will not sign a joint statement at China's Belt and Road forum if a pact does not include guarantees on free trade and fair competition, the German minister of economic affairs and energy said.

The remarks by Brigitte Zypries came as leaders from 29 countries gathered for the forum. A communique is expected to be published on Monday when it ends.

"If these demands are not met, then we cannot sign. We'll see what happens tomorrow," she said in a briefing with the press on the sidelines of the gathering.

The draft communique backed "upholding the rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open and inclusive multilateral trading system with the WTO at its core".

Some Western diplomats have expressed unease about both the summit and the plan as a whole, seeing it as an attempt to promote Chinese influence globally. They are also concerned about transparency and access for foreign firms to the scheme.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has touted his ambitious Silk Road plan, first launched in 2013, as a new way to boost global development, expanding links between Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond underpinned by billions of dollars in infrastructure investment.

On Sunday, Zypries called for greater transparency in tenders for the initiative's projects, for adherence to international standards and for the creation of a level playing field for all companies and countries involved.

"Germany does want to take part (in the initiative), but tenders need to be open to everyone. Only then will German companies take part," she said.

"It must also be clear what is actually going to be built. At this point, it's not clear."

China's restrictions on allowing foreign companies to invest or buy assets in the world's second-largest economy are "still a problem" between the two nations, she said.

German companies, particularly those in the automotive and pharmaceutical sectors, often complain they are forced into joint ventures in order to gain a foothold in China's lucrative market, while Chinese companies are able to operate abroad.

"We want German companies to be able to operate in China in the same way Chinese companies can in Germany," she said.

"(But) there is still no clear timetable for dismantling the restrictions."

(Reporting by Elias Glenn, Josephine Mason and Thomas Peter; Writing by Tony Munroe and Josephine Mason; Editing by Randy Fabi and Andrew Bolton)