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CHINA, US announce WTO agreement


BEIJING (AP) _ China and the United States announced an agreement Saturday on farm subsidies and other remaining issues blocking Beijing's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

The agreement reached in Shanghai during a meeting of regional economic ministers this week clears the way for Washington to support Beijing's bid at a meeting of WTO members June 28.

Officials released no details of the deal, but confirmed that Chinese Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick discussed farm subsidies, services such as distribution to retailers and import-export rights.

If other members confirm the agreement at their meeting in Geneva, that would set the stage for China to join the WTO in time for a key meeting of trade ministers in Qatar in November.

That meeting is expected to launch a new round of trade liberalization talks, following the failure of a meeting in Seattle in 1999 to agree on an agenda for negotiations.

China is eager for a seat at the negotiating table at the start of that round. Beijing sees itself as a leader of developing nations, which complain that the United States and other industrialized countries are driving the global trade debate.

``China is clearly on the way into the WTO, and a strong supporter of the new WTO round,'' Zoellick said in comments released by his office after he returned to Washington.

A statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said, ``China and the U.S. agree that we should now work together in Geneva to complete China's WTO accession.''

A key sticking point had been Beijing's insistence on being treated as a developing nation, which would let it provide farm subsidies equal to 10 percent of its annual economic output. The limit for developed countries is 5 percent.

Multilateral talks in Geneva on China's membership have stalled since January, largely because Washington and Beijing couldn't find common ground.

Shi and Zoellick reached agreement in a series of meetings held during a conference of economic ministers of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Shanghai this week.

They met until 3 a.m. on Friday to settle differences over the contentious issue of farm subsidies, according to a U.S. trade official.

China had insisted on the right to pay subsidies to its farmers at a level far above what it can afford.

Farmers in China receive subsidies equal to just 2 percent of the nation's economic output, which is below even the level allowed by the WTO for developed countries.

But Beijing was intent on asserting its status as a developing country, despite huge exports and fast-growing industries in computers and other high-tech fields.

The United States, Australia and other agricultural exporters were under pressure from farmers to resist letting China keep the higher level.

China has been trying for 14 years to join the WTO.

To complete the membership process, China must show that its laws and policies are in line with WTO free-trade rules and that it has won the endorsement of other member governments.

Beijing has obtained agreements from all WTO members except Mexico, which is asking for stronger antidumping protections.

Mexican President Vicente Fox, visiting Beijing this week, told President Jiang Zemin that his government hoped to reach agreement soon.

The WTO has 141 members, with another 29 governments waiting to join.

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