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Sunday, 11 November, 2001, 17:16 GMT
Taiwan joins China in WTO
Taiwanese magazine seller
Once Taiwan has joined, mainland magazines will go on sale for the first time
by BBC News Online's Steve Schifferes at the WTO talks in Doha

The World Trade Organisation has unanimously approved the admission of Taiwan - just one day after China was admitted.

US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and EC Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy both congratulated Taiwan on its accession.

Mr Lamy said he was pleased that Taiwan had accepted its obligations as a developed country and as a valuable trading partner of the EU.

And in a statement, US President George W Bush welcomed both economies into the international trading system.

"The United States stands ready to work constructively with both economies...we also look forward to the great benefits we know that greater trade will bring to all our peoples," he said.

The acceptance of both Taiwan and China sets the scene for the expansion of the rule-based trading system to include most of the world's major countries, with more than 20 other nations queuing up to join the organisation.

The admission has been carefully stage-managed by the WTO to provide some positive news during five days of arduous negotiations designed to launch a new set of trade negotiations.

China is expected to play a major role in future trade negotiations, and has made it clear that it will be supporting the concerns of developing countries.

Taiwan's role will be less clear. It has a highly protected agricultural sector which will suffer after it lowers trade barriers, and has been backing EU proposals to go slow on liberalising agriculture.

But its dynamic industrial base - now battered by the global economic slowdown - will benefit from a guarantee of open markets, and it will probably be able to expand its investment in mainland China which already totals $70bn.

Taiwan economic minister Lin Hsin-i told delegates that it would accept its WTO obligations.

Upstaged by China

Less than a hour later, China chose to hold its formal signing ceremony on its WTO accession, clearly trying to upstage Taipei.

Dozens of Chinese journalists took photographs of each other to mark the occasion before the formal handshake between WTO boss Mike Moore and Chinese Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng.

He said China would present its ratification documents to the WTO immediately, thus ensuring that China officially joins the organisation on 11 December 2001.

Mike Moore said it would be remembered as "one of the most significant events of the 21st century for China, the WTO, and the world."

Bitter rivals

Taiwan and China are locked in a bitter diplomatic battle, and at times China has threatened to block Taiwan's WTO membership.

China, which argues that Taiwan is a renegade province, also has insisted that it join as "the separate customs territory of Taiwan Kinmen and Matsu" or Chinese Taipei.

It has asked the WTO for guarantees that no WTO events will be held in Taiwan.

And China has insisted that it had to be admitted first, although negotiations with Taiwan were completed earlier.

Last month, China blocked a senior Taiwanese figure from attending an Apec summit in Shanghai.

Diplomatic coup

But WTO membership will provide Taiwan with a vital diplomatic foothold after its loss of representation in many international bodies.

And in the long run, it could lead to closer links to China, with the establishment of direct trading ties like flights and commercial shipping routes.

Taiwan has already lifted restrictions on investment in China by Taiwanese companies.

China, however, insists that before there is any economic integration there must be a recognition of its "one China" policy.

The BBC's Andrew Walker
"The WTO has been scrupulous in observing China's diplomatic sensibilities on Taiwan"
The BBC's Evan Davis
"This will tilt the weight of WTO membership towards the developing countries"
See also:

06 Nov 01 | Business
Taiwan to free up China funds
05 Nov 01 | Business
Taiwan's jobless nightmare
22 Oct 01 | Business
Taiwan's export orders plunge
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