China/WTO Talks in Final Stage

December 6, 2000

Chinese officials are meeting in Geneva this week with representatives of the World Trade Organization in what many observers believe will be the final round of negotiations leading to China’s entry into the global trading organization after a 10 year effort.

Chinese officials have already reached agreement with both the U.S. and the EU to open the market to foreign insurance companies and brokers, but many details remain to be worked out. Some progress was made last month in establishing the methods for the approvals from Chinese authorities, and new licenses have recently been granted.

A number of obstacles remain, however. The insurance industry is chiefly concerned that, despite promises to the contrary, Chinese licensing procedures will be used to slow down their actual entry into the market. China has also said it will lift the geographic restrictions currently imposed on foreign companies when it joins the WTO, but hasn’t established any mechanism or set any timetable for doing so.

In any event it’s now too late for China to join the WTO this year. Assuming that the negotiations go smoothly, and the remaining issues are resolved, the WTO General Council must formally approve China’s membership application. Its last meeting of the year is scheduled for this week, before talks with the Chinese delegation are scheduled to end.

If approved by the Council, China too would also have to approve the terms, and then wait 30 days before formally entering the world body. It would then be subject to WTO rules on tariffs and trade, but it would be up to individual members to seek their enforcement in cases where conflicts arise.

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