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Minister urges assent to market status
By Dai Yan (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-06-08 08:30

The ministerial meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum had been a good arena for Chinese Minister of Commerce Bo Xilai to promote his views on a new round of WTO talks, free trade agreements with China and its market economy status.

China's Minister of Commerce Bo Xilai. [newsphoto/file]

Bo, who was appointed to the position three months ago, held talks with six foreign trade heads, including 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 about trade recently.

Bo urged the United States to take concrete moves regarding China's market economy status.

"Related working groups should step up the pace to achieve substantial progress," Bo said.

A China-US working group on market economy status was settled on by the China-US Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) meeting on April 21.

Bo said he believed an early solution to the problem would help create a good environment between the two countries which need improved trade co-operation.

On WTO talks, Bo told Zoellick that China is willing to co-operate 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 from June 4 to 5 and focused on trade liberalization.

Trade ministers from 21 Asia-Pacific economies, responsible for nearly half of the world's trade, gathered in Pucon, a resort town in the mountains 700 kilometres south of the Chilean capital of Santiago, to move forward new talks of the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which are scheduled for July in Geneva.

The July meeting is another important occasion for the Doha Round since a meeting in Cancun last September failed as 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 talks 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 and differential treatment.

China promised a wide and substantial opening-up when entering the WTO in December 2001. It is impossible for the country to offer a new round of market opening-up in the Doha agenda, he said.

When talking with Vaile and Alvear, Bo asked them to recognize China's market economy status at an earlier 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 received an active response on the issue when talking with Watana from Thailand.

Bo also urged Mexico to acknowledge the status and to avoid unfair practices in anti-dumping cases in which Chinese products were concerned.

Three countries - New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia- have already granted China market economy status.

Besides that status, free trade agreements were a key point in Bo's meetings.

Bo said China is ready to accelerate feasibility studies on free trade agreements with Chile and Australia.

The China-Chile feasibility study on FTA, kicked off in April, may possibly finish before November, Bo said.

The conclusion of the study will now come out in the first half of 2005, ahead of a previous deadline for October that year.

When meeting Yeo from Singapore and Watana from Thailand, Bo said the negotiation for a China-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) FTA is expected to conclude as scheduled by June 30 this year.

"Negotiations are going smoothly and have reached a basic consensus on the trade arrangement,"Bo said.

Negotiations on service trade and investment will be launched as soon as possible, he said.

"China will try its best to address special concerns of ASEAN members," Bo said.

The ASEAN-China FTA, the world's largest which covers 1.7 billion consumers with a combined gross domestic product of US$2 trillion, will start in 2010.

Besides the above countries, China is discussing FTA possibilities with New Zealand, India and the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries.

Bo signed an agreement with Yeo for Singapore's entry to the China-Thailand trade arrangement on vegetables and fruit, which provides zeros tariff in the two categories.

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