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U.S., China Announce Plans For New Talks on WTO Membership

By Mark Magnier
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- AUCKLAND, New Zealand

The United States and China agreed Thursday to launch fresh negotiations on Beijing’s bid to join the World Trade Organization, talks suspended after NATO’s bombing of the China embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in May.

Speaking at a Pacific Rim economic conference that has been overshadowed by violence in Indonesia and the China-U.S. initiative, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky said “substantive” WTO negotiations will resume shortly.

Getting the world’s most populous nation into the club of trading nations is a long-standing goal of the Clinton administration as well as of the Chinese. But any such proposal will face a colossal battle in the U.S. Congress.

The agreement to resume talks, reached in a late meeting with Barshefsky and her Chinese counterpart, Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng, set the stage for Saturday’s one-on-one meeting here between President Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

The Clinton-Ziang meeting will take place on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Auckland.

Trade experts in Washington and elsewhere said a pact could be reached in as little as two weeks once formal negotiations resumed. China’s accession to WTO must also be approved by other nations, but the U.S. blessing is key.

China wants to join the global trade group by November, when the WTO launches a new round of trade negotiations in Seattle.

A recent study by the International Trade Commission said U.S. exports to China would probably increase initially by 10 percent, while China’s exports to the United States would grow 7 percent, if China joins WTO on terms the two countries were discussing earlier this year.

That would have little impact on China’s $57 billion trade surplus with the United States, and would add a meager $1.7 billion to the U.S. economy. Advocates argue the commercial payoff would come in the longer term as China’s economy grows and its huge market becomes more accessible to U.S. companies.

“Minister Shi and I agreed to work jointly to resolve outstanding issues as soon as possible,” Barshefsky told reporters.