With US Dispute Resolved, China Lobbies to Join GATT

DAYS after agreeing to avert a trade war with the United States, China has intensified a campaign to join the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and bolster its international trading status.

Chinese Minister of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade Li Lanqing outlined steps that Beijing plans to take to bring its trading practices into line with those required for entering GATT.

The measures include cutting and eliminating tariffs and reducing the scope of imports requiring licenses, Mr. Li told a Beijing press conference on Jan. 18. In addition, China will gradually set up a floating-rate system for the Chinese currency, the renminbi, or "people's money," Li said. He added that China would scrap the convertible Foreign Exchange Certificates set up for the use of tourists. In recent years, China has slowly devaluated the renminbi to reflect its true market value.

Li's statements suggest that Beijing is eager to take advantage of the improved atmosphere following the recent resolution of an eight-month-old US-China trade dispute to advance its position in the world trading regime.

Beijing and Washington struck an accord on the protection of intellectual property Jan. 16, just hours before Washington had threatened to impose high tariffs on nearly $1.5 billion of imports from China. In the accord, China agreed to respect international patents and trademarks and to join the Berne convention on copyrights.

US manufacturers had accused China of pirating American computer software, books, pharmaceuticals, and other goods, causing them losses of some $400 million a year.

In an indication that the agreement could aid China's entry into GATT, US Trade Representative Carla Hills said the accord "demonstrates that, in an area critical to the US economy, China is willing to take important steps toward bringing its trade regime closer to international norms."

Li hailed the agreement as "a good precedent" for the settlement of other US-China trade issues, which include the approaching debate over whether Washington should continue extending most-favored-nation trading status to China.

The US, which had a trade deficit of more than $10 billion with China in 1991, is pressing Beijing for greater access to China's market.

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