- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Members of the World Trade Organization yesterday formally approved China's membership, WTO officials announced yesterday, marking the end of 15 years of on-again, off-again negotiations.

The negotiating group that slogged through the details of tariffs, quotas and other trade-policy minutiae contained in an 800-page negotiating document gave its blessing to China's WTO accession.

Trade ministers will celebrate the achievement when the WTO meets in Doha, Qatar, Nov. 9-13.

"After 15 years of often-arduous negotiations, the working party and its member governments have approved the necessary documents paving the way for China accessing to WTO," WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said. "It's a historic day in the young life of WTO."

The announcement will also clear the way for WTO members to approve Taiwan's entry into the organization during a meeting scheduled for today. Under a long-standing tacit agreement between major trading nations, Taiwan's membership could only go forward once Beijing had wrapped up its negotiations.

The agreements with both China and Taiwan will take effect 30 days after their respective legislative authorities approve the pacts and send a notification to the WTO. In keeping with the pace of the negotiations, Beijing will act first later this year.

"It looks like the beginning of next year — for both countries," said Rupert Hammond-Chambers, executive director of the U.S.-Republic of China Business Council, a Washington-based business group. "Taiwan will be a half-step behind the Chinese."

Approval came after the United States and the European Union laid aside a lingering dispute over access to China's fast-growing insurance market. New York-based American International Group Inc. has the right to own 100 percent of its branches inside China, something other U.S. and European companies cannot do.

U.S. trade officials ensured that AIG, which has spent decades cultivating the Chinese market and persuading officials to give it full ownership rights, maintains this right under the WTO agreement.

European negotiators objected strongly to this advantage and tried to get it altered. But ultimately they settled on an ambiguous "formula" in the agreement that could allow it to bring an arbitration case before the WTO at a later date. Observers viewed this solution as a way to quickly bridge the U.S.-European gap and wrap up talks immediately.

"If somebody wants to challenge [AIGs position], then the lawyers will have their chance," one trade official said.

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