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|Sunday, September 16, 2001, updated at 10:47(GMT+8)|
Finally, China on Verge of WTO EntryChina, the world's fifth largest trading power and by far the biggest single market, stood on the verge of admission to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) this weekend after 15 years of tough, on-off negotiations.
In what one senior official described as "a momentous occasion", a WTO working party approved an 800-page package of entry terms, clearing the way for China's admission by the end of the year.
"This is a historic day," said WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell, while top negotiators for the European Union and the United States welcomed the end to what has been dubbed China's "Second Long March" after revolutionary leader Mao Zedong's epic crossing of the country in the 1930s.
"It was long, and it was painful," said EU negotiator Karl Falkenberg, involved in the talks for the past decade.
"But I think that in the end we have an agreement that will ensure the integration of China in the world trading system...It offers opportunities for both the rest of the world and China. This should become a win-win game."
US negotiator Jeffrey Bader said he was pleased with the outcome and that final negotiations "reflected the close cooperation between the United States and the European Union".
The talks had been briefly suspended in respect for Bader's delegation following the terror attacks in the United States on Tuesday.
China's veteran delegation chief Long Yongtu, whose moods over the years clearly reflected the state of the negotiations, said the package's informal approval an hour after midnight "is only the end of the beginning".
``It will be a long process for China to implement (the agreements) and conform to (them) and to be a good member of the WTO," he said, after clinking champagne glasses with other negotiators at the trade body's Geneva headquarters.
Although the package still has to be officially approved on Monday at a formal meeting of the working party, the group's chairman Pierre-Louis Girard, Falkenberg, Bader and envoys from other members of the 142-nation WTO said it was a foregone conclusion.
The package, which includes detailed terms under which China guarantees it will admit foreign goods and services as well as outside firms, then has to get the green light from the WTO's ruling General Council.
It had been planned for this to be done at a WTO ministerial meeting in Qatar in November, but there is now some doubt it will go ahead because of possible US reaction to this week's attacks on New York and Washington.
However, diplomats said this would not stand in the way of China entering the WTO by the end of the year -- with Chinese Taipei following right behind.
DIPLOMATIC FUDGERight up to the last, the deal was threatened by a dispute between the EU and the United States over terms for foreign insurance companies opening new offices in China once it comes under the umbrella of WTO rules.
The resolution came with what appeared to be a clear diplomatic fudge.
The United States has insisted that the huge American International Group Inc (AIG) conglomerate should be able to hold 100 per cent ownership of any new Chinese operations.
But the EU said this would be unfair to insurers from its 15 member states, which would be bound by Chinese rules stipulating newcomers will have to take on Chinese partners for 50 percent of any new operations.
Officials from the EU and US said they were confident the final wording in the package backed up their differing positions. "We look to China to honour our agreement," said US negotiator Bader.
But diplomats who have studied the text said it remained open to interpretation and might eventually have to be tested in the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body which settles trade rows between member countries.
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