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Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 16:58 GMT
China's WTO goal in sight
Beer crates in a shop in China
China's economy is the 10th largest in the world
Talks on China's membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have resumed in Geneva on Wednesday.

Diplomats from the 140-member body are optimistic that the remaining obstacles to China's accession can be agreed over the next few months.

Entry to the WTO after a 14-year wait would see China's vast production power and potential market finally brought into the mainstream of world trade.

But before that happens, a series of trade deals need to be finalised.

The talks, which will last until 17 January, are expected to focus on subsidies to China's loss-making industries, and opening up the services sector, especially the sensitive financial and telecoms sectors, to foreign investment.

There are also differences on whether China should be classified as a developing or a developed country.

China is hoping for a package deal that will tie up all the loose ends concerning its membership.

Agreement in principle

By the end of last year most of the WTO's main players, such as the European Union and the United States had all signed bilateral accords.

But hopes that China could become a member during the Clinton administration have proved over-optimistic.

Now diplomats say it might take one more series of meetings before China joins the WTO, possibly in May.

The EU, in particular, will need to consult its members before a deal can be finally agreed.

Counterfeiters

Many complex issues such as access for foreign companies to China's commercial services sector have not been resolved, despite progress in bilateral negotiations.

There are also concerns that China will be reluctant to eliminate the subsidies to its state industries, which could lead to millions of job losses. However, at the last round of talks in December, there was substantive progress on sensitive issues such as intellectual property rights, where China has a poor record.

Pirated goods cost multinationals operating in China millions of dollars a year.

After the deal goes through, Chinese will be free to trade with most countries in the world free of major tariff restrictions.

China already has the world's tenth largest economy, and the deal is expected to boost economic growth further.

But even once all negotiations have been completed, there will be several months of technical work to draft the accession agreement.

Diplomats are, however, confident that China's long march to WTO membership will this year finally be over.

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See also:

07 Dec 00 | Business
China's exports surge
19 Dec 00 | Business
US trade gap close to record
27 Oct 00 | Europe
China and Europe reach WTO deal
11 Oct 00 | Business
Why US-China trade matters
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