EU ready to iron out WTO barriers to China

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The Independent Online

The European Commission yesterday said it aimed to settle trade differences with China swiftly, following the weekend breakthrough agreement between China and the US which should allow China's accession to the World Trade Organisation this year.

China, the world's biggest trading nation outside the WTO, and the US finally resolved outstanding issues on Saturday that have been holding up Beijing's attempt to join the organisation for 15 years. The development will, it is hoped, open up China's vast market of almost 1.3 billion consumers to foreign firms.

EU Trade Commissioner, Pascal Lamy, said yesterday that he wanted the EU to iron out its remaining problems at a WTO meeting planned for 28 June in Geneva ­ at which the US will support Chinese entry. Among the contentious issues is the number of licences awarded to European insurance companies in China. "We will move swiftly to renew talks with the Chinese side to resolve our remaining differences in order to pave the way for China's accession," Mr Lamy said.

US talks on China's entry had previously stalled over the amount of subsidies Beijing can pay its farmers. Over the last week, at the sidelines of an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Shanghai, the two countries also discussed trading rights, retail distribution and insurance market access. It is hoped that China can join the WTO before a new round of global trade talks is held in November. The US had wanted China to pay farm subsidies of just 5 per cent of the value of agricultural production as a developed country. China had insisted it was a developing country and should therefore pay subsidies of 10 per cent. Officials from both countries said a consensus was reached, without spelling out details. "This understanding is a win-win result for China and the US," said US trade representative Robert Zoellick. "It should help us and the other nations of the WTO to try to complete China's accession this year." Trade officials had warned that Beijing might mothball economic reforms linked to WTO pledges if it did not gain admission soon.

China is eager for a seat at the negotiating table at the start of the new round of trade liberalisation talks, due to be held in Qatar, following the failure of a meeting in Seattle in 1999 to agree on an agenda for negotiations. Beijing sees itself as a leader of developing nations, who complain the US and other industrialised countries are driving the global trade debate.