Hopes rise in talks on admitting China to trade body

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HOPES SURGED last night of an breakthrough in talks to admit China to the World Trade Organisation ahead of the new round of global trade talks.

Charlene Barshefsky, the United States trade representative, delayed her departure from China yesterday to stay for a fifth day of talks after Premier Zhu Rongji intervened.

China's decision to ask the US delegation to stay could indicate that negotiators believe they can reach a last-minute deal, observers said. The US party was due to leave on Friday.

The two sides worked deep into Saturday night to try to hammer out a deal to help Peking join the WTO before ministers of the organisation's 134 member nations meet in Seattle at the end of this month to launch a new trade round.

A spokeswoman said Ms Barshefsky had a "good session" with Chinese leaders. "The talks remain detailed and substantive," she said. Ms Barshefsky is now expected to stay until at least the end of today.

China has pushed for 13 years to join the WTO and its predecessor GATT, and efforts have been stepped up under Mr Zhu, who believes membership will help speed up free-market reform in his country.

The level of detail in the talks was also encouraging. China froze all negotiations on WTO membership after the Nato bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May. Talks reopened after President Jiang Zemin and US President Bill Clinton met in New Zealand in September, but a first round broke no new ground.

Sarah Hogg, page 17