- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

BEIJING (AP) China formally joined the World Trade Oranization yesterday, triggering changes that promise more choices for consumers, more opportunity for foreign investors and more challenges for Chinese farms and factories.
Beijing has promised to pry open its markets and industries to foreigners as the global trade rule-making body's 143rd member. It hopes the influx of investment and competition will drive the overhaul of China's economy and raise living standards, even if it means short-term pain.
Private entrepreneurs stand to benefit from changes demanded by China's trading partners, including ending monopolies and special treatment for state firms.
But farmers and state industry face an onslaught of cheaper imports.
Officials say the changes will be the most important since China launched capitalist-style economic reforms in 1979.
"For China it is a great day," the newspaper Economic Daily said on its front page.
But after 15 years of arduous negotiations and a steady flow of upbeat propaganda, many Chinese found yesterday a little anticlimactic.
"For us ordinary folks, it's not much of an event," said Wang Dawei, a mobile-phone salesman in Beijing.
From her post behind a McDonald's cash register, a woman who would only give her family name of Yang hears official talk of opportunity and economic reform spurred by the WTO. But what she looked forward to on China's first day of membership was simpler: new clothes.
"I want to see more fashions," Miss Yang, 23, said at a shopping mall in Shanghai, China's bustling business capital. "The Chinese-made fashions are getting better, but the best are from overseas," said Miss Yang.
China still has to make sweeping legal changes to conform to WTO rules on opening its markets to foreign competitors. More than 1,000 laws and rules must be changed, said the People's Daily, the main Communist Party newspaper.
But just getting China into the WTO gives the world trading system a morale boost at a time of slowing economies, and a rocky start to new talks on more liberalization.
"China's accession to the WTO is an important milestone for this organization and its member states," South Africa President Thabo Mbeki said yesterday in a speech in the Chinese capital, Beijing.
China hopes increased competition will force state businesses to shape up, though that could wind up costing millions of jobs.
Even companies in relatively healthy sectors such as telecommunications are threatened. The government is encouraging companies to merge into conglomerates big and rich enough to compete.
"The challenges are real, but the advantages right now are still just potential," said Pan Qifang, a manager at the Jiangxi Copper Co. in Guixi in southern China.
Sun Min, chairman of Jiangling Motors in the southern city of Nanchang, said WTO membership would end encumbering government regulation.
"For the auto industry, it's a good thing, but we must face the reality that the competition is going to get fiercer," he wrote recently in the Economic Evening News.
The hardest-hit area will be the countryside, home to some 900 million Chinese. Millions are expected to be thrown out of work as inefficient farms face an influx of cheaper foreign food.
"The impact of competition from foreign products will be severe over the short term," said Wang Zhenghe, an official of the Agriculture Bureau in the eastern grain-producing province of Shandong.
He said the industry badly needs more investment in technology and product quality.
Such problems seemed far off in Shanghai, where banners proclaiming "China enters WTO!" festooned light poles. Stores there offer everything from Japanese mobile phones and German leather jackets to Hawaiian coffee.
"Of course, cheaper is better. We've been hearing constantly about WTO, but I'm still waiting for foreign products to get cheaper," said Chen Jie, 22, standing beside a sales display for Sweden's Volvo cars.
Expectations weren't high at Beijing's bustling Bainaohui electronics market.
"We're really not expecting to feel any changes in prices of products for another three years or so," said Mrs. Li, who declined to give her full name. Her tiny stall was packed with computer printers and fax machines.
"As far as our everyday life, it isn't something we expect will have a really big impact."

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