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Thursday, 5 July, 2001, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
China hails WTO 'breakthrough'
Long Yongtu, head of the Chinese delegation at the WTO
Long Yongtu: latest talks "a turning point"
China's chief negotiator Long Yongtu said a "major breakthrough" had been reached in talks on his country's entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

WTO Director General Mike Moore said "every signal is positive" that China's membership can be voted on when ministers from the 141 member nations meet in Qatar in November.

The Geneva talks which ended on Wednesday "brought us one significant step closer to the goal of attaining that objective", he said.

Mr Moore urged negotiators to use the time available before the next meeting in the week of 16 July to resolve all remaining differences and agree on the documents that must be completed before they can recommend China's accession.

"We're very close, but we're not there yet," he said.

Some hurdles remain

The remaining disagreements concern rules for new entrants to the insurance market and the level of Chinese ownership in branches of foreign insurance company branches already inside China.

We're very close but we're not there yet

Mike Moore, WTO Director General
This issue, which has caused conflict between EU and US negotiators, centres on American insurer AIG, which is already doing business in China and wants to ensure that any new branches it opens will not face a requirement for 50% Chinese ownership, according to US-based AP Television News.

However Mr Moore said a controversy over agricultural subsidies looks as if had been solved after "very intensive consultations".

India, South Korea and Malaysia have been seeking an assurance that a US-China compromise deal to cap agricultural subsidies at 8.5% would not be used to justify demands for lower subsidies from developing countries in future.

Developing countries have the right to subsidise 10% of agricultural output.

China must still conclude an agreement with Mexico.

Japan welcomes breakthrough

Japan's trade minister Takeo Hiranuma welcomed the news of a breakthrough, saying it would establish a legal framework that could help resolve trade disputes with China.

The two countries are currently deadlocked over tariffs Japan imposed on Chinese agricultural goods, including spring onions, shiitake mushrooms and rushes for making tatami mats.

Talks on China's entry to the WTO will resume in the week of 16 July and aim to complete complex legal documents setting out China's obligations under the free trade treaty.

The organisation and its members want some agreements to point to in Qatar

Andrew Walker, BBC Economic Correspondent
The time scale remains tight for a vote on China's accession to the WTO at the organisation's November ministerial meeting in Dohu, Qatar, but trade analysts say Mr Moore is eager for the deadline to be met.

"The organisation and its members want some agreements to point to in Qatar," according BBC Economic Correspondent Andrew Walker in Geneva.

The Qatar meeting will be the first attempt to launch a new round of global trade negotiations since the Seattle WTO Ministerial meeting in November 1999 collapsed without agreement.

The Seattle conference was also dogged by riots outside the building as police clashed with environmentalists and other protestors.

A vote in favour of China's membership at Qatar would not be the end of the process, which has rumbled on for 15 years.

China's National People's Congress must ratify the text, after which there would still be a 30-day wait before China finally achieves its goal.

The BBC's Andrew Walker
"China is a huge gap in the WTO membership"
See also:

03 Jul 01 | Business
China-WTO major issues 'resolved'
03 Jul 01 | Business
China and Japan tackle trade row
09 Jun 01 | Business
China and US clinch WTO deal
11 Jan 01 | Business
China reports import surge
01 Mar 01 | Business
Chinese exporters seek new openings
18 Apr 01 | Business
China beats growth forecasts
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