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China entry talks inconclusive

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 27 Sep (Chakravarthi Raghavan) - Talks on the Chinese accession to the WTO appear to have run into further problems, exasperating both the Chinese and other negotiators.

After a series of bilateral and plurilateral informal meetings since the middle of this month, the Working Party on China’s accession is due to have a formal meeting on Thursday, when everyone is likely to put things on record. At the moment of writing it is not clear when or how the working party will be resumed.  The US Trade Representative, Mrs. Charlene Barshefsky, it was announced late Wednesday night in Washington, is going to Beijing to sort out at political level, the problems that have arisen and have held up China’s accession terms from being finalised. For good measure, the Washington report blamed the Chinese for the hold-up and implied that the Chinese were in fact going back on what they had agreed.

After the formal working party meeting on Thursday, where China will have the opportunity to present its side of the case and views formally, the Chinese negotiator and vice-minister, may hold a press conference, where he may clarify his position and answer questions.

Earlier this week, China and Switzerland signed a bilateral agreement, putting on record their bilateral market access negotiations and concessions offered by China.

However, at one informal plurilateral/multilateral meeting this week of the working party, chaired for slightly over a decade, by the Swiss diplomat, Mr.  P.L. Girard, tempers ran short and the Chinese representative accused Girard of being partial, and Girard offered to step down.

But obviously tempers cooled later, and China expressed its renewed confidence in Girard, and his efforts to steer these long negotiations to a conclusion.

The differences that have apparently cropped up are about what the Chinese claim are ‘endless new demands’, and what others say are no more than attempts to clarify and put down on paper (in the accession protocol) what China has agreed to in the bilateral talks.

This appears to relate to the ‘demand’ or ‘view’ (depending on who explains the problem) of the major western trading nations, that the market access and other commitments China has agreed to in respect of the imports of goods and services and their distribution inside China, would or should involve the right of the foreign exporters, with or without an actual subsidiary or company being set up on Chinese soil (and may be thus subject to Chinese law and jurisdiction), to have trading rights.

It is difficult to separate the chaff from the grain of this controversy without the relevant terms of the protocol being made public.

Perhaps there may even be a misunderstanding or difficulty in what has been agreed to in negotiations in English or French, and its translation into Chinese for the consideration of the national authorities of the details.-SUNS4750

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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