China WTO entry bid to get push
SHANGHAI, China -- Officials from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) are this week pushing for China to join the World Trade Organization before year-end.
China and the United States are also preparing for top-level talks aimed at reviving China's stalled WTO bid.
China's 14-year effort to join the trade group has hit a hitch this year, as relations with the United States deteriorated. Many people expect it to be put off until 2002.
China's Foreign Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick are slated to meet for the first time on Tuesday. The head-to-head comes before APEC trade ministers meet in Shanghai on Wednesday.
The two trade chiefs will try and iron out problems over China's entry to the WTO. U.S. officials play down the chances of a breakthrough, though, saying issues such as subsidies for Chinese farmers remain stumbling blocks.
Bush gives relations a boost
Sino-U.S. ties got a boost last Friday, when U.S. President George W. Bush announced he would support renewing China's normal trade relations status for another year. Congress will debate that this summer.
The status has to be renewed each year until China joins the WTO. APEC officials said this weekend that they favor that happening this year.
The 21-country organization met in Shenzen, China, to set the agenda for the trade ministers' talks in Shanghai. APEC stated that it was critical for it to send a clear message that it supports multilateral trade and undoing protectionism.
China's WTO admission would benefit all involved and should come before a WTO summit in Qatar this November, the chairman of this weekend's talks said.
"The early accession of China to WTO benefits not only China but also WTO itself," Wang Guangya said. "My own personal view is that if China can become a member of WTO before the launch of a new round of WTO negotiations, this will play a positive role."
Date for Geneva talks possible
Larry Greenwood, who headed the U.S. delegation, said he thought the U.S. and Chinese trade ministers would this week set a date for multilevel talks in Geneva to resolve China's bid.
But China and the United States have dragged their feet in resolving the key issue of agricultural subsidies.
The United States wants China classified as a developed nation, which would cap farm subsidies at 5 percent of farmer's output. China wants to be classed a developing nation, which would mean it could pay up to 10 percent.
Analysts say that issue could be resolved easily enough if both sides want to see it resolved. The real differences, observers feel, are political. Tensions have been high since a collision between a U.S. spyplane and a Chinese jet on April 1.
China has a history of using APEC meetings to unveil important initiatives. So there is optimism among free-trade proponents that this week could see some progress.
Even if WTO entry moves forward this week, though, the paperwork involved in finalizing China's bid would likely push it back into 2002.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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