SCMP Monday, November 12, 2001

China signs WTO agreement

MARK O'NEILL in Doha, Qatar

China early this morning formally signed an accord to join the World Trade Organisation, one hour after Taiwan's entry was approved.
After signing the 900-page document in a ceremony carried live on Chinese state television, Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation Shi Guangsheng said Beijing was determined to play by the rules of the WTO. By joining, China would provide "more and better business opportunities" for exporters and investors worldwide, Mr Shi said.
He also presented a signature of approval from President Jiang Zemin, meaning the clock has begun ticking down to China's ratified entry on December 11 - after the required 30-day period.
US President George W. Bush welcomed both China and Taiwan's accession, saying the move would lead to global economic growth and democratic reforms by Beijing.
"The United States stands ready to work constructively with both economies to assist them in meeting the challenges of implementation," Mr Bush said. "We also look forward to the great benefits we know greater trade will bring to all our peoples."
WTO Director-General Mike Moore said China's entry would be one of the economic landmarks of the 21st century, while European Union trade chief Pascal Lamy said it was "the greatest leap forward in the history of the WTO".
An hour before China's signing ceremony, ministers from the 142 member countries were invited to accept the report of a working group on Taiwan's admission and gave their approval for its entry.
In deference to Beijing, Taiwan enters under the name of the "separate Customs territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu", which refers to the main island and three smaller ones under the control of Taipei.
Taiwan's Legislative Yuan is scheduled to ratify admission documents on Friday. Taiwanese Economic Minister Lin Hsin-i said after the approval: "We will actively participate in all WTO activities and work together with all other members to draw up new trade and economic rules and thereby make constructive contribution to the multilateral trading system."
The Taiwan delegation maintained a low profile yesterday, apparently nervous of a last-minute manoeuvre by Beijing to block its entry, and only scheduled a news conference after the signing of its accession papers this evening.
As for Beijing, the secretary-general of its delegation, Yi Xiaozhu, repeated his Government's position that Taipei acknowledge "one China" as a pre-condition for direct trade.
Mr Yi said his delegation had been very moved by the support shown for China's entry, with thunderous applause in the hall on Saturday. "This marks the end of the negotiations but is the start of a new global competition. It is not like a soccer game that ends when the whistle blows. Whether we win or lose depends on our own efforts," he said.
The WTO document involves many commitments across a wide range of industries that aim to open China's economy further.
One African delegate said: "If China is inside, it will be subject to global rules and we will have better access to its market, which is not easy to penetrate."
For Taiwan, entry has been driven not by economics but politics - its desire to enter a major diplomatic body. Beijing has driven it out of the United Nations and other governmental organisations. Last week, the island's President, Chen Shui-bian, called the WTO "the economic United Nations".
Taiwan's entry will give it a legal standing it hopes will make it easier to negotiate with Beijing. The economic impact for Taiwan will be less than for China, because it already has an export-dependent and market-driven economy. The main impact will be to lower prices and accelerate the import of goods from the mainland, which could put thousands of Taiwan's farmers out of work.
In the Guangdong city of Nanhai on his way to officiate at the opening of the Chinese National Games in Guangzhou, President Jiang Zemin commented for the first time on China's entry, saying it was both "an opportunity and a big challenge".
"After joining the WTO, China will - on the basis of striking a balance between our rights and obligations - fulfil promises we've made and at the same time exercise our rights," Mr Jiang said.
Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, in Guangzhou for the same event, tried to play down fears that the SAR would suffer more job losses following China's entry. He said Hong Kong and Beijing were discussing ways to lure more mainland companies to set up SAR offices that could act as a springboard for them to compete in the world market.
Mr Tung said Beijing had given its full support for the development of a new form of economic co-operation between Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region. It would no longer be limited to processing industries, but would include five major sectors including finance, tourism and trade.