Negotiators Give Go-Ahead for China to Join WTO

Negotiators agreed Monday to terms allowing China to join the World Trade Organization, hailing the agreement as a signal of confidence in a global economy battered by terrorism in the United States and fears of recession.

Concluding 15 years of often acrimonious talks, Chinese negotiator Long Yongtu said Chinese accession to the powerful trade club would be an "all-win situation" unleashing the huge purchasing power of 1.2 billion Chinese and leading to a vast open market.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick also praised the agreement.

"Today's decision ... will strengthen the global economy," he said in a statement issued in Washington.

"China has made a firm commitment to the rest of the world to open its markets and adhere to international, market-based rules, which will help American workers, consumers, farmers and exporters," he said.

A deal was reached in the early hours of Saturday at an "informal" meeting of the 142-nation body. The agreement was rubber-stamped Monday afternoon at a formal session of the team handling China at WTO's headquarters in Geneva.

It is due to be adopted at a meeting of trade ministers scheduled for Qatar in November. WTO Director-General Mike Moore said at a news conference that the organization continued to prepare for the session despite security fears.

China's own legislature would then have to approve the 1,000-page text, clearing the way to join some time early next year.

Once a full member, China will have to abide by international trade rules, creating a more stable climate for commerce. It will have to open previously protected sectors like agriculture to outside competition and cut through its bewildering web of bureaucratic regulation. In return, it will win more chances than ever before to capture foreign markets.

In a reminder of how interconnected the world has become, chief U.S. negotiator Jeffrey Bader devoted much of his speech to reading the long list of countries whose citizens perished in last Tuesday's jetliner attacks on the World Trade Center.

"At a time of the most profound national sorrow, combined with determination and resolve to defeat the deadly menace of terrorism, the United States government will not neglect its other interests," Bader said. "This week's decision on China's WTO entry demonstrates that."

European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, the key negotiator for the 15-nation bloc in the final phase of negotiations, said news of the deal "provides us all with a much-needed boost in confidence and hope for the future."

WTO chief Moore called it "a defining moment in the history of the WTO, a defining moment in the history of cooperation between nations."

The deal on China also cleared the way for Taiwan's application to be approved at a meeting on Tuesday.

Chinese leaders are convinced that increased foreign investment and greater access overseas for Chinese exports will create jobs and prosperity -- both key to maintaining the Communist Party's grip on power.

Long glossed over economic problems that are likely to hit previously protected sectors such as farmers and state-owned enterprises. He said delays in the talks had enabled Chinese officials to tour the provinces to prepare peasants for the reality of membership.

China applied to join the WTO's predecessor -- the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade -- in 1986. However, the process was complicated by China's crackdown on democracy activists and fears China would use its vast labor market to undercut competitors.

Long said the 15 years of negotiation was "indeed a long process."

"However, it is only a blink of the eye compared with the 5,000-year history of China."