Negotiators Give Chinese Membership


By Clare Nullis

AP Worldstream
September 17, 2001

World Trade Organization negotiators formally agreed Monday to terms for Chinese membership after 15 years of tough talks, said chief WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell. Long Yongtu, China's chief negotiator, welcomed the decision and said the world would benefit. "After China's accession, the great potential of China's market will be gradually translated into actual purchasing power so as to provide a huge open market to all countries and regions in the world," Long said. "This would be an important contribution by China to mankind."

A deal was reached in the early hours of Saturday at an "informal" meeting of the 142-nation body and that was rubber-stamped Monday afternoon at the formal session of the China Working Party at WTO's lakeside headquarters. It is due to be adopted at a meeting of trade ministers scheduled for Qatar in November, clearing the way for the world's most populous nation to become a member of the all-powerful trade club early next year after its own legislation has ratified it. European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, the key negotiator for the 15-nation bloc in the final phase of negotiations, welcomed the WTO consensus. "It is very satisfying to see over 15 years of hard work bear fruit. China's accession will make the WTO a truly global organization," Lamy said.

China's entry into the rules-making body for world trade will have far-reaching implications for everyone from American farmers to Chinese auto workers. It will open its state-dominated economy to imports but will also lead to an upsurge in Chinese exports. Chinese leaders are convinced that increased foreign investment and greater access overseas for Chinese exports will create jobs and prosperity - both key to maintaining the Communist Party's grip on power. But in the short-term, millions of Chinese are expected to lose their jobs as inefficient family farms and state-owned firms succumb to cheaper imports. Foreign products could also undermine Communist rule by increasing China's exposure to Western ideas.

Saturday's deal came after a compromise was reached over the remaining obstacle - a dispute with the United States and the European Union over insurance companies. China applied to join the WTO's predecessor - the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade - in 1986. But the process was complicated by its crackdown on democracy activists, and fears China would use its vast labor market to undercut competitors.

Long said the 15 years of negotiation was "indeed a long process. However, it is only a blink of the eye compared with the 5,000-year history of China."

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