China nears WTO membership
GENEVA, Switzerland -- China says "all major issues" for its entry into the World Trade Organisation have been resolved after a 15-year application process.
China's chief negotiator Long Yongtu announced the breakthrough on Tuesday following a meeting of the WTO working party negotiating the terms of entry.
Reuters said Long told reporters: "All major issues have been resolved."
The talks follow China clinching bilateral agreements with the United States and European Union last month.
During the talks, the U.S. and the EU presented an all but completed text of the agreement on services -- like banking, insurance and telecommunications -- that they had worked out separately with China over the past four weeks.
Trade sources said last Friday that one small paragraph remained to be finalised on the status of branches in China of foreign insurance companies. Beijing wants them to be treated as firms in their own right, which would bring it more tax revenue.
Asked about the outstanding disagreement between the U.S. and EU on access for foreign insurance companies in China, Long smiled and said: "We'll see if we can help them."
A U.S. official, who declined to be identified, confirmed there was a "still a gap" between the U.S. and EU on the insurance issue.
Long and the U.S. official separately confirmed that there would have to be another meeting of the WTO party from July 16 to go over the texts.
Diplomats said the July session, expected to last a week, could see the end of the substantive negotiations after 15 years.
But China's final admission to the 141-member WTO could take several more months because of the vast amount of documentation that needs to be completed, they added.
WTO members are pushing to bring China into the body before November, when the WTO might launch a new global trade round.
Deputy director of the State Statistical Bureau Qiu Xiaohua said China needed WTO entry to boost foreign investment needed to help support the economy as its export growth faltered amid the global slowdown.
"We forecast that if problems with WTO entry are resolved by the end of this year, there will be a new surge in foreign investment," he told a seminar last month.
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