- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

The Bush administration does not believe China will honor all of the commitments it has made to join the World Trade Organization, but will not move quickly to mount legal challenges through the Geneva-based body, a top U.S. trade official said yesterday.

"One would be naive to think that commitments negotiated by the trade ministry, even though blessed by the leadership, will be implemented automatically and then enforced," U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick said in a speech to the U.S.-China Business Council, a Washington industry group.

Mr. Zoellick said competing forces in China, such as national and provincial governments, will struggle with each other as the Asian giant complies with WTO rules that require it to open up to foreign trade and investment. China must change or eliminate "literally thousands of laws, ordinances and regulations" as part of WTO membership.

"Many domestic actors in China have at best a dubious commitment to the principles that underlie WTO membership openness, free markets, transparency and competition," Mr. Zoellick said.

After a decade-long negotiation, China took its seat at the WTO, the chief global forum for trade negotiations, on Dec. 11. Given China's failure to comply with many bilateral agreements it has struck with the United States on copyrights, fruits and wheat, for example, many observers have questioned its ability to be a WTO member in good standing.

Mr. Zoellick said China already has taken two actions that could harm U.S. exports. China has not yet announced how it will allocate import quotas for many agricultural products, and has issued regulations on biotechnology that could hit American farm shipments.

But Mr. Zoellick stressed that the Bush administration would not rush to use the legalistic WTO dispute-settlement system that serves as the chief arbitration tool for international trade spats.

"When we identify a problem, we will look for ways not merely to highlight it, but to resolve it," he said. "This will not always involve unleashing legions of lawyers though we will not flinch from doing so if other courses do not produce results."

Mr. Zoellick said the Bush administration is holding monthly meetings with people from his offices and other agencies to monitor whether China is living up to its promises.

"Every one of China's obligations will be tracked by an agency or office of the U.S. government," he said.

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