China Inches Closer To WTO

President Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin on Monday discussed China's efforts to join the World Trade Organization, prodding their negotiators to reach a deal.

Chatting on the fringes of a summit of Pacific Rim leaders, Mr. Clinton and Jiang told each other they wanted to conclude an agreement on China's WTO entry, said Gene Sperling, chairman of Mr. Clinton's National Economics Council.

U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and Chinese Foreign Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng held two sessions of talks Monday and were trying to schedule the next round of negotiations, Sperling said.

The quickening pace of negotiations was one of the few tangible signs of progress in China's fitful 13-year effort to join world trade's rule-making body.

Both sides have refused to provide details on the talks since Mr. Clinton and Jiang on Saturday ordered trade officials to reopen negotiations China broke off in anger after U.S. forces bombed the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia during the Kosovo war.

Â"There remains a lot of work to do,Â" Sperling said, but added that Barshefsky felt China demonstrated Â"a positive and constructive toneÂ" in the talks.

To get into WTO, China needs to strike separate deals with the United States, its largest market, as well as with the European Union and several other countries. China is hoping to wrap up the process by year's end before entry becomes harder during the next round of global trade talks.

China and the United States came close to agreeing on Beijing's WTO membership in April. But Clinton, fearful Congress and U.S. business would not support the deal, rejected Premier Zhu Rongji's offer to open many previously closed sectors of the Chinese economy.

Conservatives in the Communist Party and influential managers of state industries lined up against Zhu's concessions, and after the embassy bombing, his offer was branded a sellout to the United States by some opponents.

With opposition still high in some quarters, China is trying to appear none too eager even as it resumes bargaining.

While acknowledging that relations have improved since the bombing, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said Washington still needs to do more.

Â"There is a need for the U.S. side to do more concrete deeds so as to cure the scars that the bombing incident has left on the heart of the Chinese people,Â" Tang told reporters at a news conference after the close of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Barshefsky and Shi have agreed to resume full-fledged negotiations on Thursday.

Written by Charles Hutzler
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