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Chinese Experience Gains, Pressure from WTO Membership

People in China are experiencing both gains and pressure arising from the nation's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) last October, something they have been talking about for years.

Among topics lawmakers talk much about at the ongoing annual session of China's top legislature are falling car prices, cheaper personal computers, sluggish demand for domestic farming produce, and opening of hospitals partly funded by overseas capital, all in response to the WTO entry.

Zhao Xueli, a deputy to the Fifth Session of the Ninth National People's Congress (NPC), said "the negative impact is already there" on the soybean-producing Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoling provinces in northeast China, the country's major source of soybeans.

The lawmaker from Heilongjiang said China's indigenous soybeans face a difficult situation: a shrinking share of the world market, large soybean imports, and domestic edible oil plants turning to imported soybeans for their lower prices and higher oil output.

Cheng Yangzhen, a farmer deputy from Zhejiang Province, east China, said she is adapting to the changes after China's WTO accession.

Cheng, a vegetable and fruit grower and exporter, said demand for her products in the Japanese market is rising, but Japanese importers are also imposing stricter standards on quality and packaging.

In his government work report to the legislature, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji mentioned more than 10 times the phrase "WTO", noting enterprises in some less competitive sectors will sustain greater pressure from outside competitors after WTO accession.

Gu Shengzu, member of the country's national top advisory body, the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said auto prices have been falling time and again during the past three months due to the impact of WTO entry.

Gu, vice-mayor of Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province in central China, said he is very much concerned that the prospect of the auto and steel industries in the city, and the two pillars of the local economy, would encounter difficulties.

Another lawmaker, Jiang Hongbin, said a 100-million-yuan oil plant he set up with others was shut down, because the per ton price of similar imports from the United States is 100 yuan lower than his products.

Zhong Shan, the top foreign trade official in Zhejiang, said he is happy with China's WTO entry as the province recorded a 45.5 percent increase in exports during the first two months of this year, the highest growth rate in China.

Early this week, an overseas-funded hospital was set up in Shanghai, the first of its kind in this biggest industrial and business center in China. Liu Yinglong, a local medical expert, said this would exert pressure on state-owned hospitals in the country.

Economist Hu Hongmin has been following closely the unemployment issue in the country. He noted that the manufacturing, commerce, building and mining sectors account for 86.5 percent of the country's layoffs.

The sectors are expected to lay off more workers,, said the economist, adding private and overseas-funded firms are to create more jobs now that China has become a WTO member.

He Jingzhi, an NPC deputy and general manager of the Shanghai Branch of China Life Insurance Co., said the insurance sector is entering an era of neck-breaking competition.

There are 26 insurance companies operating in Shanghai, with a majority of them being overseas-funded ones.

Zhang Qie, a noted writer, said he has seen a growing flow of overseas cultural products into the Chinese market, impacting the thinking of the Chinese people.

"But I believe in the vitality of traditional Chinese culture, philosophy in particular," he said.

Trade expert Bian Changtai said it is an urgent task for China to get familiar with the WTO rules and international norms. "The pressure arising from the WTO entry is due to inadequate knowledge about WTO rules, and the impact of WTO entry comes from poor preparedness," he said.

Economist Song Hai said the biggest gain from WTO accession is it inspires all sectors and industries of China to improve their international competitiveness, which is conducive to making the country richer and stronger.

"The WTO accession urges us to march forward in big strides. We have no alternative but marching on," said the economist.

(People's Daily March 8, 2002)

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