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Monday, 4 June, 2001, 18:20 GMT 19:20 UK
China renews bid for WTO status
Paddy field in China
China wants to retain greater powers for subsidising agriculture
Senior trade chiefs are preparing for high level talks at the start of a week which may revive China's stalled campaign to join the World Trade Organisation.

China's foreign trade minister, Shi Guangsheng, and US trade representative Robert Zoellick will on Tuesday discuss WTO membership at a meeting in Shanghai.

And representatives of countries in the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) forum are set at a meeting on Wednesday to call for China to be allowed into the WTO by the end of the year at the latest.

Supporters of the accession, which China has spent 14 years campaigning for, include Japan, which boasts the largest economy among Apec's 21 members.

"China's participation in the global trading system is an important part of giving new impetus [to the WTO]," a Japanese foreign ministry official said.

Tough negotiations

But the US has remained cautious over the move, despite a recent warming in relations between Washington and Beijing.

US officials have warned of the difficulties involved in reaching compromise on contended issues, in particular on levels of state aid for farming.

China is seeking classification among 'developing' countries, which the WTO allow to subsidise up to 10% of agricultural output, compared with 5% for 'developed' states.

"We have low expectations," a US official said. "We have been burned so many times before."

Other members of the US team, however, have raised hopes that China will use its status as Apec chair this year as an opportunity to accelerate a breakthrough deal.

"It would be normal procedure for China to try and pull out some big surprise, some great concession, at a big meeting like Apec which they wouldn't do at a working level," another member of the US team said.

Mr Shi on Monday said China's "inevitable" accession to the WTO would benefit the world as a whole.

"But the timing will depend on the progress of multilateral talks," he said.

Taiwan dispute

Relations between China and the US have warmed in recent weeks, following the breakdown prompted by a crash between a US spy plane and a Chinese fighter in April.

China has also been angered by a US decision to allow defence firms to sell arms to Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province.

This rift was reopened on Monday, when China's Foreign Ministry slammed Washington for allowing Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian to stopover in the US en route for Latin America.

"We are against any country having diplomatic relations with China making official contacts and exchanges with the Taiwan authorities," the ministry said, according to Chinese news wires.

But observers are viewing more significant as a backdrop to Tuesday's Zoellick-Shi meeting a call by US president George Bush on Friday for America to resume normal trade relations with China.

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See also:

30 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Bush woos China on trade
29 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
China snubs US again
25 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Bush talks tough over Taiwan
19 May 00 | Business
US shift on China vote
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Bush backs China trade deal
19 May 00 | Business
Analysis: China's WTO hopes
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