The ministerial meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum was a good arena for Minister of Commerce Bo Xilai to promote his views on a new round of WTO talks, free trade agreements with China and the country’s market economy status.
Bo, who was appointed to the position three months ago, held talks with six foreign trade heads: Chilean Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile, Singaporean Trade Minister George Yeo, Thai Commerce Minister Watana Muangsook and Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Fernando Canales.
Bo spent more than an hour and a half with Zoellick. The two countries are important trading partners, but there has been rising friction between them recently. Bo urged the United States to make concrete moves regarding China’s market economy status.
“Related working groups should step up the pace to achieve substantial progress,” Bo said.
A decision was made at the China-US Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) meeting on April 21 to form a China-US working group on market economy status. Bo said he believes an early solution to the problem will help improve cooperation between the two countries.
On WTO talks, Bo told Zoellick that China is willing to cooperate with the United States to achieve a breakthrough before the end of July in a bid to protect multilateral trade.
The APEC ministerial meeting was held in Pucon, Chile, on June 4 and 5. Talks focused on trade liberalization.
Trade ministers from 21 Asia-Pacific economies, responsible for nearly half of the world’s trade, gathered in the mountain resort town 700 kilometers south of the Chilean capital of Santiago, to advance new talks in the Doha Round of the WTO, which are scheduled for July in Geneva.
The July meeting is an important occasion for the Doha Round since a meeting in Cancun last September failed, with developing and developed countries split over agriculture issues.
The Doha Round is scheduled to be completed by January 2005.
Bo said China will play an active role in the talks even though it is suffering from pressure because of its non-market economy status and specific safeguard measures, particularly on textiles.
He also said that new members of the WTO, like China, should enjoy a special status in the new round and should be granted special treatment.
China promised a wide and substantial opening when entering the WTO in December 2001. It is impossible for the country to offer a new round of market opening in the Doha agenda, he said.
Bo asked Vaile and Alvear to recognize China’s market economy status at an early date.
“We expect the two countries to acknowledge China as a market economy as soon as possible in order to create an important condition for FTA negotiations,” Bo said.
Bo also urged Mexico to acknowledge the status and to avoid unfair practices in anti-dumping cases against Chinese products.
New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia have already granted China market economy status.
Free trade agreements were also a key point in Bo’s meetings. He said that China is ready to accelerate feasibility studies on free trade agreements with Chile and Australia. The China-Chile study, begun in April, may finish before November, Bo said. The conclusion is expected to come out in the first half of 2005, well ahead of the previous October deadline.
Bo told Yeo from Singapore and Muangsook from Thailand that negotiation for a China- ASEAN FTA is expected to conclude as scheduled by June 30 this year.
“Negotiations are going smoothly and we have reached a basic consensus on the trade arrangement,” he said. Negotiations on service trade and investment would be launched as soon as possible.
“China will try its best to address the special concerns of ASEAN members,” Bo said.
The ASEAN-China FTA is the world’s largest, covering 1.7 billion consumers with a combined gross domestic product of US$2 trillion. The agreement is scheduled to come into effect in 2010.
China is also discussing FTA possibilities with New Zealand, India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
Bo signed an agreement with Yeo for Singapore’s entry to the China-Thailand trade arrangement on vegetables and fruit, which offers a zero tariff on the two categories.
(China Daily June 8, 2004)