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Taiwan joins China in WTO

DOHA, Qatar -- One day after the accession of China, Taiwan has become an official member of the World Trade Organization.

Its successful membership of the global trade body was agreed by representatives of 142 WTO nations as a ministerial meeting in the Gulf state of Qatar.

Beijing had insisted Taiwan could enter only after China since it considers the island part of its sovereign territory.

Taiwan's entry followed one hour after a signing ceremony for its larger rival.

At Beijing's insistence, the WTO agreed to categorize Taiwan as a "separate customs territory" instead of a country. Its signing ceremony is scheduled for Monday.

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Taiwan's accession will mean increased trade and economic co-operation with China, but analysts say a thaw in political relations is unlikely.

Ties have been strained since Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party took office last year.

On Saturday WTO trade ministers unanimously voted in favour of China's application after 15 years of negotiations, bringing a market of 1.3 billion people into the global trading system.

China's entry is expected to boost economic reforms started in the world's most populous nation more than 20 years ago and open the huge market to the rest of the world.

The approval of once-isolated communist China was planned to give the WTO maximum publicity and to ensure that some positive news would come out of the meeting, which has the main aim of launching a new round of trade liberalisation negotiations.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said of China and Taiwan before the votes: "Both are already major influences in world trade. Their participation in the WTO will be a boost for us and them."

French Finance Minister Laurent Fabius said the WTO could not genuinely be called a "world" organisation without the world's most populous nation.

"When a country as important as China decides to join the WTO, it means there is a new impetus toward the development of trade," he said.

Also in Dohar on Sunday, the European Union insisted that environmental issues must be part of a new round of global trade negotiations and said it did not see why it should make concessions in other areas to win agreement on this.

Environment is one of the toughest areas of discussion as ministers from the WTO 142 countries try to forge an agenda for a new trade round.

Following a number of controversial WTO rulings, the EU wants to clarify the relationship between trade rules and international environmental agreements, and when environmental concerns take precedence.

The 15-nation grouping says the issue is so important it could be a "deal breaker" at the Doha talks.

But it has run into opposition from developing countries which fear rich countries could use environmental standards as a pretext to erect protectionist barriers to their exports -- a charge strongly denied by Brussels.

"We are prepared to write in blood in the Doha declaration words to the effect that we reject any outcome that would lead to protectionism," a senior EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.


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