Tags: China | Odds | with | WTO | Leadership

China at Odds with WTO Leadership

Wednesday, 23 January 2002 12:00 AM

Beijing's stand has raised fears that the Doha, Qatar round of trade liberalization talks launched last November and scheduled to start Jan. 28 could remain rudderless for some time, unless the matter is resolved.

China insists members need to agree first on the guidelines of the three-year trade talks before moving on to the selection of who will be appointed to chair the Trade Negotiations Committee, the body responsible for coordination of the talks. Its stand is supported by Pakistan and some African and Central American countries.

Western trade diplomats say the move is China's "first test of resolve" to emerge as the leader of the developing world in the 144-member WTO, which oversees most global trade in goods and services.

One European diplomat said China was trying to send a message now that it's a WTO member "it will have a say in the way things will happen."

The United States, EU, Japan and Canada -- collectively called the Quad -- are supported by Brazil, India and members of the Association of South East Asian Nations. They favor continuing the decades-old tradition of appointing the chief of the global trade body to chair the TNC.

The international status of the WTO chief, note trade diplomats, has proven particularly useful in past negotiations such as the historic Uruguay Round (1986-1994) in resolving stalemates over agriculture and other sensitive issues through direct shuttle and telephone diplomacy with political leaders.

The Quad and their supporters want the TNC chairmanship to be taken over by current chief Mike Moore. They want former Thai Prime Minister Supachai Panitchpakdi, who takes over as WTO chief on Sept. 1, to succeed Moore.

In a bid to avert the politically-sensitive issue from turning into a full-fledged brawl, both WTO Director-General Moore, and the chairman of the WTO's ruling General Council, Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong, have been conducting quiet diplomacy to try and resolve the differences.

As part of this process, Moore, a former New Zealand prime minister, met Tuesday with Sha Zukang, China's ambassador to the United Nations and International Organizations in Geneva, senior trade diplomats said.

Late Tuesday, a meeting of WTO ambassadors from about 25 countries at WTO headquarters failed to resolve the gridlock, diplomats familiar with the meeting said. Efforts will continue, however, they added.

But a senior Chinese official, who declined to be identified, told United Press International: "We believe the first thing is to agree upon an outline of procedures and principles that should guide future negotiations."

The Chinese official also said, "It's up to (WTO) members to translate into operational measures or procedures what is absolutely necessary" and that this should take place before actual talks begin.

China also wants the role the chairman and vice chairman of the TNC will play to be clearly spelled out.

"We have to know what the chairman's role will be, let's be clear," the official said, adding, once these concerns are resolved China "can be flexible" on the TNC chairmanship.

"The Chinese can't put themselves in the corner in such an obvious way," a Western WTO ambassador said and hinted Beijing's stance could be political.

Some trade diplomats say that at the end of the day, China might prove less of an obstacle than other WTO members such as Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and the Dominican Republic, who are adamant and "completely opposed" to Moore or his successor holding the TNC chairmanship.

Instead, they favor that the chairman and vice chairman be selected from the membership by the General Council.

The appointment, they argue, should be for no longer than one year with the possibility of re-election. It should be equally distributed between developed and developing countries and oscillate accordingly.

To avert the possibility of being excluded, these countries want all draft decisions to be taken in open-ended meetings and all negotiating texts to be made available to WTO members two weeks in advance.

However, several Latin American WTO ambassadors told United Press International such terms were too cumbersome and would not work given that the task's duration is only three years.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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Beijing's stand has raised fears that the Doha, Qatar round of trade liberalization talks launched last November and scheduled to start Jan. 28 could remain rudderless for some time, unless the matter is resolved. China insists members need to agree first on the guidelines...
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2002-00-23
Wednesday, 23 January 2002 12:00 AM
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