China sends mixed messages on GATT

HINA sent a mixed message yesterday about its willingness to accept Western demands for further trade reforms in return for membership in the world trade body.

Foreign Trade Ministry spokesman Miao Fuchun said China's ``bottom line'' at a meeting tomorrow in Geneva will be that it cannot be asked to do more than it already has agreed to to gain admission to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

``We are not prepared to get into GATT at any cost, and we will not trade the fundamental interest of the country,'' he said.

Yet Mr. Miao said later, ``If the major contracting parties have the political will to see that China returns to GATT within this year, China is ready to make further efforts.'' He did not say what those efforts might be or explain the apparent contradiction.

Throughout the news conference, Miao stressed that China considers that it already has done enough since applying for GATT membership to bring its trade practices in line with international standards. He also warned that if China does not gain GATT membership, it would not honor pledges it has made to the world body for additional trade reforms. ``This could be very bad news to countries hoping to get more trade and investment opportunities on the China market,'' Miao said.

China has been seeking admission to GATT for eight years and wants to be a GATT member before the World Trade Organization, GATT's successor, comes into existence so that it can enjoy the benefits of being a founding member of the new body.

But Western countries, including the United States, have delayed China's accession, fearing unfair practices toward foreign traders in China's vast market.

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