Business / Economy

Waiting for the next 'WTO moment'

By Zheng Yangpeng (China Daily) Updated: 2015-03-24 08:10

China's decision to join global organization led to unimaginable changes within just one decade

The historic significance of many events can only be appreciated in hindsight.

In 2001, when China entered the World Trade Organization to a mix of praise and apprehension, even the most optimistic observers did not realize what it meant for the Chinese people and for people all over the world.

In that year, China's foreign trade was a mere $500 billion. Last year, it was $4.3 trillion, which made China the world's largest merchandise trader.

The flow of goods and services and capital, and changes in the value chain, transformed the country in just a decade, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty by putting them on the assembly line.

There are many people to honor, among whom Long Yongtu is a legend.

Long, former vice-minister of foreign trade, was the chief negotiator for China's accession into the WTO. Few now can imagine what headwinds he faced when he sought to integrate the country into the world economy.

Last week, I attended a luncheon at which both Long and Wu Jianmin, former ambassador to France, were present.

Wu recalled that in 1999, when Long, in a casual talk with United States trade officials, realized there was a chance to talk with the US about China joining the WTO, he excitedly knocked on the door of his superior, who gave him the cold shoulder.

"Yongtu, you are too politically naive. Don't be fooled by Americans," the senior official said.

In a political culture that does not reward aggressiveness, Long could choose to stay calm and follow orders, and if that was the case China's accession could be delayed. But that is not Long. He directly went to Zhu Rongji, then premier, a reform-minded leader. Zhu reacted positively to Long's idea, which made the ensuing talks possible.

Long himself has long moved on from those memories.

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