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Tuesday, 5 June, 2001, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
No progress at US-China WTO talks
China's foreign trade minister, Shi Guangsheng (left) and US trade representative Robert Zoellick
China is still no closer to WTO membership
Top US and Chinese trade negotiators have failed to settle their differences on the terms of China's acceptance into the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at a meeting in Shanghai.

China's foreign trade minister, Shi Guangsheng, and US trade representative Robert Zoellick met for an hour on Tuesday to discuss Beijing's 14-year-old bid to join the WTO.

"The two sides exchanged viewpoints on the issues of Apec [Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation] meetings, US-Chinese trade issues and negotiations on China's entry into the WTO," Mr Shi told reporters afterward.

"In the next few days, our two sides will have more discussions on these issues," he said.

Shi Guangsheng meets WTO general secretary Michael Moore
Shi Guangsheng and WTO general secretary Michael Moore will meet again later in June
Mr Zoellick declined to be specific when asked when he thought China would finally enter the WTO.

"I can't say and I don't know, but there's good faith on both sides to keep moving forward," he said.

So, more than a year after China signed bilateral deals with the US and the EU to pave the way for its accession to the WTO, there is still no clear timetable for when it can become a member.

The two sides met ahead of the two-day Apec forum which opens in Shanghai on Wednesday.

Relations thaw

The meeting took place against the background of President George W Bush's decision last week to formally ask Congress to renew China's low-tariff trade privileges with the US.

Relations between China and the US have thawed in recent weeks, after the breakdown caused when a US spy plane and a Chinese fighter clashed in April.

China has also been angered by a US decision to sell arms to Taiwan, which Beijing regards as its sovereign territory.

The US has endorsed China for membership of the WTO, but the two sides disagree over agricultural subsidies and other issues.

China's entry has been delayed by its insistence on being classified as a "developing" country, which under WTO rules would allow it to grant subsidies of up to 10% to farmers, compared with 5% for "developed" states.

Washington and other governments want the rate set at the 5% limit for developed economies.

Taiwan's bid

The US also wants China and Taiwan to join the WTO at the same time, Mr Zoellick said on Tuesday.

"On the issue of the timing of Taiwan's accession [to the WTO], this is a decision that has to be made unanimously by all WTO countries," he said.

"Therefore, I think the practical and likely approach will be that China and Taiwan come in together in the same session and the US has been working to that end."

Other disputes

Other key WTO members, especially EU states, have outstanding differences to resolve with Beijing before the formal entry can proceed.

But the number of disputes could strengthen the case for China's entry to the WTO, which regulates global trade and resolves disagreements between members.

The US shares the EU concerns over issues such as access to the Chinese market for insurance companies, trading rights for foreign firms within China, and retail distribution.

Japan and China are locked in a row over agriculture that has spilled over into the car sector.

Chinese car dealers have complained that import applications for Japanese cars had been rejected in an apparent tit-for-tat reprisal for Tokyo's import curbs on Chinese products.

Garlic war

China has also threatened to suspend imports of South Korean mobile phones again if Seoul does not complete a contract to import some 32,000 tonnes of Chinese garlic in a new round of the "garlic war" that began in June 2000.

Another obstacle to Chinese WTO membership is Beijing's failure to reach a trade agreement with Mexico, the only formal bilateral trade talks still not concluded.

The visit by Mexican President Vincente Fox to China later this week could bring that a step closer to resolution.

China is also scheduled to hold a fresh round of talks with member countries of the WTO from 28 June to 4 July.

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See also:

04 Jun 01 | Business
China renews bid for WTO status
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
17 May 00 | Business
Bush backs China trade deal
19 May 00 | Business
Analysis: China's WTO hopes
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