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Wednesday, October 6, 1999 Published at 06:14 GMT 07:14 UK

Business: The Economy

China upbeat on WTO talks

US trade representative Charlene Barshefsky met with Minister Shi Guangsheng last week

China is optimistic that it can join the World Trade Organisation ( WTO) this year, but it admits the negotiations will prove difficult.

"Whether China can join the WTO has now become a political decision. Both China and the United States face political considerations on this issue," the Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, Shi Guangsheng said.

"Negotiations will be very difficult," he said. "Now the key issue remains how we should balance our obligations and rights after China's accession."

Reports in the China Daily, a state newspaper, quoted Mr Guangsheng as saying both sides were trying to organise a new round of negotiations. He gave no timetable for the talks.

The minister met US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky in Washington last week.

However, the talks ended a day early. Charlene Barshefsky said that "there would be another meeting" and that there was a good chance outstanding disagreements could be resolved.

Devil in the details

China and the United States came close to a deal in April which would have allowed China to join the WTO in return for concessions that would have opened up more of its markets to foreign investment and competition.

But talks were suspended after NATO's bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. It was only at the Auckland summit two weeks ago that US President Bill Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin agreed to restart the process.

The US believed it had won concessions in April that would open key service sector markets like banking and telecommunications to full international competition.

But China says there was no agreement, and some officials have been adopting a hard line on issues like foreign Internet investment recently.

There are also difficulties on US exports of grain, and Chinese textile exports.

China wants to join the WTO before the Seattle round of world trade talks begin at the end of November.

But the delays are casting doubt whether this objective is achievable.

US Senate leader Trent Lott warned that the crowded legislative schedule could make the ratification of any agreement difficult this year.

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