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WTO Entry Recasts Economic Landscape
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Membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) has dramatically altered the character of the Chinese economy; and the country is ready to play a bigger role in globalization.


That is the assessment of Minister of Commerce Bo Xilai on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the nation's accession to the WTO.


"China's performance (since its entry to the WTO in 2001) has outpaced the expectations of not only foreigners but also ourselves," Bo said yesterday.


The past five years saw China become the third-largest trader in the world; and its share in global trade nearly doubled to 7.7 percent from 3.9 percent.


"It is a splendid record for the country as the market share of other major traders, such as Japan, the United States and Germany, declined or levelled off during this period," Bo said.


When China joined the WTO, many people were worried that domestic industries, such as steel-making, telecommunications and banking sectors, would lose out to their international rivals.


The growth in imports and exports, however, has become a driving force for the improved performance of domestic industries.


"We feel confident and optimistic when analyzing the structure of China's foreign trade," Bo said.


Exports of machinery and electronics products climbed to 56 percent of the country's total exports in the past five years; high-tech products claimed 28 percent; and completed products accounted for 94 percent of total exports, according to statistics from the commerce ministry.


"Domestic industries did meet some challenges," Bo said. "But industries that opened up the most were the ones to have made the greatest progress."


Production of steel and vehicles increased by 25 percent during the period while exports increased by around half.


More importantly, WTO membership perceptibly changed Chinese people's opinions on employment, intellectual property rights protection and innovation, Bo said, adding that he was proud of China completely fulfilling its commitments and strictly complying with WTO rules.


The government has revised more than 3,000 laws and regulations since the country joined the global trade body to optimize its market system.


China's average tariffs were lowered to 9.9 percent in 2005 from 15.3 percent in 2001, while tariffs on industrial products were reduced to 9 percent and those on agricultural products were cut to 15.3 percent.


The country has opened foreign-trade rights to all individuals, private-owned businesses and foreign-invested companies; and from this month, foreign-funded banks are allowed to offer renminbi retail business.


As the largest developing member of the WTO, the minister said, China expects to pro-actively participate in the formulation of international trade rules.


"We did not have a say at the Uruguay Round of talks. But now it is different. We should participate in the institution of trade rules, including pushing forward the Doha Round of talks," he said.


The nation feels the same pinch as other developing members and a number of them expect China to help make their voices heard in the global trade regime.


Bo said China hopes to be a bridge between developing and developed members in the Doha Round of negotiations, which were suspended in July because of disagreements between the United States and the European Union on subsidies for agricultural exports.


China hopes that irrationally-high tariffs on farm products, subsidies and support for agriculture, which distort free trade, are scrapped through negotiations and more trade opportunities given to developing countries.


China is now one of the few developing countries with the lowest level of tariffs on agricultural and industrial products, he said.


"In fact, China's tariffs on farm products are lower than not only in developing countries but also many developed members."


He stressed that trading partners should treat China as a full market economy.


"It is globally acknowledged that China's economy is growing fast and healthily," Bo said. "It is illogical to deprive China of the market economy status."


Touching on unfair trade practices, Bo said: "We feel, in the past five years, the more advances we made, the more trouble was attracted."


He pointed to instances of trade friction: 15 percent of all anti-dumping cases in the world targeted China in 2001, the figure increased to 30 percent last year and 37 percent in the first three quarters of this year.


Bo said it is not accidental that China is facing increasing trade conflicts, but is optimistic that the country will be able to resolve the problems.


(China Daily December 11, 2006)


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