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Heightened Responsibility
China's role in international trade commended by the World Trade Organization
By Wang Jun | Web Exclusive

A staff member delivers goods at an overseas warehouse of China's Yingkou Port (Hui) Ltd. in Moscow, Russia, on November 9, 2016 (XINHUA)

Wang Shouwen, Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce and Deputy China International Trade Representative, became a focus of attention at the headquarters of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, Switzerland, during the institutions' seventh trade policy review of China since the country’s accession in 2001. As head of the Chinese delegation to the review, he made extensive introductions to China’s consistent pursuit of opening up for cooperation and mutual benefit with all countries.

The review, conducted on July 11 and 13, looked back at China’s trade and economic policies over the past two years.

"In their interventions, members highlighted the importance of China's contribution to global growth over recent years," said Eloi Laourou, Chairperson of the WTO Trade Policy Review Body, in his concluding remarks. Members participating in the review expressed appreciation for China's active role in the WTO, and stated that China’s recent reform initiatives have broadened market access and investment opportunities.

"WTO members have commended China's economic and trade policies in the past two years and appreciate the opportunities brought to them by China’s development," said Wang at a press conference held after the review’s conclusion. "They particularly appreciate China's new measures of reform and opening up, and have acknowledged that China’s opening up did not stop after the country's accession to the WTO, but is continuing to expand."

Review of changes

The WTO conducts regular reviews of the trade policies in individual members with the aim of increasing the transparency and understanding of their trade policies and practices through regular monitoring, improving the quality of public and inter-governmental debate on issues and enabling a multilateral assessment of the effects of policies on the world trading system.

All WTO members are subject to the review, with the four biggest traders--the EU, the United States, Japan and China--examined once every two years. The next 16 countries in terms of their share in global trade are reviewed every four years, and the remaining countries are reviewed every six years, with the world’s least developed countries sometimes examined in at longer intervals. Following an amendment passed in July 2017, these review cycles will be adjusted to three, five and seven years respectively from January 2019.

During this year’s review China received 1,963 written questions from 42 members, and had answered 1,627 questions from 33 members before July 11, with the remaining questions submitted after June 28 to be answered within one month.

In his statement at the first session of the review on July 11, Wang said that from accession to the WTO in 2001 to 2017, China’s imports of goods increased at an average annual rate of 13.5 percent, double the global average. Between 2001 and 2017, China’s imports of services registered average annual growth of 16.7 percent, almost three times that of the world average. In 2001, U.S.-invested enterprises only generated sales revenue of $45 billion in China, while in 2016 the figure had reached $600 billion. In 2017, foreign-invested enterprises contributed 44.8 percent of China’s total foreign trade in goods.

Wang cited figures from the European Chamber of Commerce in China which showed that the business operations of European companies in China had continued to improve in 2017, with around 66 percent of companies reporting higher revenues than 2016, and 93 percent registering growth in earnings.

He said that the royalties paid by China to foreign rights holders had surged from $1.9 billion in 2001 to $28.6 billion in 2017. A 2018 white paper from the American Chamber of Commerce in China showed that among the biggest challenges facing U.S.-invested enterprises in China, IPR ranked 12th and is no longer a major problem for their operation in the Chinese mainland.

According to Wang, as of April 2018 China had brought 17 disputes to the WTO and had been the subject of 41 complaints. "As the respondent, China respected WTO rulings and made adjustments to its measures according to WTO rules. Up to now, none of the complainants has requested retaliation against China," he said.

Wang also stressed that the multilateral trading system is now confronted with severe challenges. He urged all WTO members to resolutely defend the fundamental principles and core values of the multilateral trading system, including most favored nation status, national treatment and preferential treatment for developing countries, while firmly resisting trade intimidation, protectionism and unilateralism.

China also calls for an end to the impasse blocking the selection of members for the Appellate Body, and the tackling of systematic threats posed by unilateralism to the WTO.

Bigger role to come

Describing China as a very active player throughout, Roberto Azevedo, Director General of the WTO, believes that China will be part of the efforts to make the organization even more effective, and to figure out the problems with other members to improve the system. "This system has been under stress more recently, given these trade tensions all over the world," Azevedo said. "So the way to reflect and react to these things is to be ahead of the curve and ready to do the things necessary to make the system even more effective, even stronger."

Participants in the review also expect China play a bigger role in world trade. Willy Alfaro, Director of the Trade Policies Review Division at the WTO, said in an interview with China News Service (CNS) that a record 70 delegations attended the review, and an unprecedented number of questions were sent to China, which shows the level of interest among WTO members in China's trade policies and practices.

China has become a key player in global trade. "Some delegations noted that what China does in terms of trade and investment policies matters to all WTO members," Alfaro told the CNS.

As the largest trading partner in the world, "China has to match this with an increasing level of responsibility," said Alfaro.

"China's role in the WTO is critical. At the present time China is one of the greatest forces supporting the multilateral system," said Syed Tauqir Shah, Pakistani Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the WTO, adding that with protectionism increasing worldwide, Pakistan and most WTO members greatly appreciate the leadership role of China in the WTO.

Pakistan appreciates China's efforts to open its economy, evidenced by the continual lowering of tariffs and implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement, Shah said.

"China's accession to the WTO has been absolutely decisive," said Didier Chambovey, head of the Swiss Permanent Mission to the WTO, adding that it had accelerated China’s economic and social development and benefited the rest of the world.

As China becomes more integrated in the global economy and becomes a world trade power, WTO members expect China to assume more responsibilities in the system and in the development of a system from which China benefits a lot, Chambovey said.

Copyedited by Laurence Coulton

Comments to wangjun@bjreview.com

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