Chief U.S. trade negotiator Charlene Barshefsky made an unscheduled trip to Beijing to meet premier Zhu Rongji in an apparent effort to break the impasse which has developed between Chinese and WTO negotiators in Geneva over the details concerning China’s entry in to the world trade system.
Despite the signing of accords with the U.S. and the EU a number of difficulties have arisen, which threaten to derail China’s joining the WTO this year. Barshefsky’s trip underlines the importance the Clinton administration attaches to China’s entry, and the seriousness of the current problems.
At issue are details as to how China will implement WTO regulations, especially those concerning copyright laws and the granting of licenses in the insurance, telecommunications and finance sectors.
The ultimate issue is whether or not the Chinese leadership is confident enough to really open the country up to the outside world. There are enough opponents within the regime to put in peril the entire range of agreements which have been painstakingly worked out over the last two years.
One European trade official was quoted by The Washington Post as saying, “Most countries that accede to the WTO are market economies. China is not yet a market economy. They’re in a period of transition, they have enormous ideological issues, and there’s a large state sector that has not yet been privatized.”
The difficulties of coming to terms with this anomaly are deeper and more serious than most negotiators had expected, and it’s unlikely that Barshefsky’s meeting alone will solve them.
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