- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 15, 2001

GENEVA — China clinched one of its top economic and political goals yesterday, with an agreement by negotiators on the terms of its membership in the World Trade Organization after 15 years of tough and complex talks.
A compromise was reached over the final remaining obstacle — a dispute over insurance companies — clearing the way for weary negotiators to sign off on the draft membership accord.
Clearance by WTO members would open the way for China to be formally approved at the WTO's meeting of trade ministers in Doha, Qatar, in November — if that goes ahead following the terrorist attacks. China would then become a full member early next year.
A deadline of Thursday had been initially been set for agreement, but meetings were adjourned for two days Wednesday in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
After a midevening break, negotiators reconvened shortly before 1 a.m. for what was called an "informal" session, only to re-emerge minutes later with news of the deal.
This is now due to be rubber-stamped by a scheduled formal meeting on Monday.
One of the final stumbling blocks was removed Thursday when Mexico and China reached a bilateral accord. Mexico was the last WTO member to hold out against Beijing.
That left just one remaining hurdle — a complicated row involving the United States and the European Union over insurance and accounting for just one paragraph in a treaty of more than 1,000 pages.
U.S. insurer American International Group, which has operated in China since 1994, wants guarantees that it can continue to expand without having to find Chinese partners. The draft WTO text states that new companies joining the life insurance market must be 50 percent Chinese owned. European companies, which operate as joint ventures with Chinese partners, insist that AIG must play by the same rules as they do.
China applied to join the WTO and its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, 15 years ago. The application process was fraught with political problems over Beijing's crackdown on the democracy movement and economic fears that China would use its vast labor market to undercut competing products.
The share of North American imports coming from China rose from 0.8 percent in 1983 to 7.3 percent by 1999, and in European stores "Made in China" labels are omnipresent. Chinese sales abroad are expected to soar further once it joins the WTO and gains easier access to other markets.
China has already started reducing some import tariffs,.
As a sign of its supreme confidence, China has built a new mission to the WTO, a high-tech building on the shore of Lake Geneva.


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