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Monday, 16 July, 2001, 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
China WTO talks face final issue
Long Yongtu, head of the Chinese delegation at the WTO
Long Yongtu: "a major breakthrough" last time
Talks on China's entry to the World Trade Organisation resume in Geneva with only one significant disagreement still to be resolved.

"There are a couple of issues that remain to be settled, in fact there's only one issue," said Keith Rockwell, spokesman for WTO Director General Mike Moore.

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

Under the present wording, new entrants would be able to own 50% of their China operations, alongside a Chinese joint venture partner.

Insurance rules

Some insurers with existing China operations are concerned that their new branches may not benefit and will have to stick to higher levels of Chinese ownership agreed in the past.

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

Mike Moore, WTO Director General
Some foreign insurers have been established with more than a 50% share of Chinese ownership, said Mr Rockwell.

He said China, the US and European Union were still discussing the issue.

"Those three entities are all involved and they're all trying to determine how this particular agreement would apply," he said.

After the last meeting of the Working Party on China's Accession in July, WTO Director General Mike Moore said "every signal is positive" that China's membership could be voted on when ministers from the 141 member nations meet in Qatar in November.

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

Major breakthrough

China's chief negotiator Long Yongtu said a "major breakthrough" had been reached.

That meeting produced a full set of documents detailing the agreements for the first time, said Mr Rockwell.

The latest meeting is the first time the 63 states in the working party will have had the chance to see all the documents. As a result, new concerns may emerge, he cautioned.

As to the timescale for China's WTO to be agreed, it is likely to be at the WTO's ministerial meeting at Doha in Qatar in November, he said.

Finetuning still to do

Before that can happen, "we still have some technical work that would need to be done... verifying, checking, tying up loose ends", he said. This will require another working party meeting.

The WTO's general council is due to meet twice before Doha - in July and October - but is unlikely to vote on China's accession.

"It would be very unlikely to see ambassadors approve a working party recommendation two or three weeks before their ministers meet in Doha," said Mr Rockwell.

A controversy over agricultural subsidies was solved at the last Working Party meeting with an agreement that China would cap its subsidies at 8.5%.

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, but trade analysts say Mr Moore is eager for the deadline to be met.

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.

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 achieved its goal.

China must still conclude an agreement with Mexico.

The BBC's Andrew Walker
"China is a huge gap in the WTO membership"
Dr Phil Deans, lecturer in Chinese politics
"I would be very surprised if China does not join the WTO by the end of this year"
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
10 Jul 01 | Business
China concedes in WTO talks
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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