China closes in on WTO agreement

Associated Press

GENEVA – Chinese negotiators and World Trade Organization members said Friday they were “building up the final package” in Beijing’s 14-year bid to join the body that sets rules on international trade.

At a news conference to wrap up four days of talks, officials said they had virtually reached agreement on a number of issues, including copyrights, patents and licensing of foreign service providers.

“We are not there yet at this stage, but we are progressively building up the final package,” said WTO deputy director-general Paul-Henri Ravier, who is chairing the talks.

“The intensity is there, and the momentum is there.”

The negotiators plan to meet again in Geneva Jan. 10-17 to continue the discussion on areas which are still causing problems, including agricultural subsidies and other issues of services trade.

China had long set its sights on joining the WTO by the end of this year, but that goal is now impossible. However, diplomats were confident that if work continues at the current pace, the process can be finished early next year.

China’s chief negotiator, Long Yongtu, described the meeting as “very constructive and sometimes very cordial.”

“In all these years, I found myself sitting on the one side and all the other members sitting on the other side trying to squeeze me to the last drop of my blood,” said Long. “Now we find sometimes two or three members arguing among themselves, and not me.”

Long said China had made particular progress in the area of intellectual property, which includes patents and copyrights, and would change its laws in those areas irrespective of when its completes its membership bid.

He said China would implement the WTO agreement on intellectual property “from day one” of membership, even though developing countries have been given more time to meet the commitments in the accord.

“The protection of intellectual property rights is key to attracting investments,” he said.

Long stressed, however, that China still believed it should be given the same flexibility as other developing countries, especially in areas such as agricultural subsidies.

“In some of the sectors, we are very well advanced, but in other sectors we are a little bit behind,” he said.

He also added that China does not intend to start meeting the commitments it has given to individual countries until it has actually joined the WTO.

China also still has to negotiate an individual agreement with Mexico before it can enter the WTO, but Mexican negotiators have said they will not block Beijing’s membership while work continues on that agreement.

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