After admitting China, WTO members begin the tough talking on trade rules

Sunday, November 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DOHA, Qatar (AP) _ The euphoria that greeted the approval of China as a member of the World Trade Organization died down Sunday as ministers began the contentious business of preparing for free trade talks.

Ministers have until Tuesday evening to agree on a formal declaration setting out the areas in which they will hold negotiations. All are conscious that failure to agree _ for a second time _ would paralyze the body that sets rules on international trade.

``There are concerns among members about the failure of the conference. It is by no means certain that they will bridge the gaps,'' said WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell.

The last time WTO members tried to set the agenda for talks, during a Seattle meeting in 1999, the effort ended in an impasse.

On Saturday, trade ministers from almost all of the WTO's 142 members unanimously approved China's application for membership, bringing the once-isolated communist country _ and its 1.2 billion consumers _ firmly into the global marketplace.

Sunday should see the approval of Taiwan which, according to an informal 1992 agreement, could not join before China.

Membership had been China's goal for 15 years. Chinese Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng said his country supported the WTO's aim to launch a new round of trade liberalization negotiations as long as the ``interests and reasonable requests of developing countries'' were given ``full consideration.''

In Geneva Saturday, protesters who claim the WTO puts business ahead of people and hurts developing countries hurled Molotov cocktails, bottles and firecrackers at riot police who erected barricades and barbed wire fences around the WTO headquarters.

In Doha, a small group of protesters chanted outside a U.S. news conference Saturday, accusing rich countries of bullying poorer nations into agreeing to things that were not in their interests.

One key issue on which rich and poor differ is protecting patents on medicines.

Brazil and India are leading a group of countries pushing for a declaration that nothing in WTO agreements stops them from buying cheaper, generic versions of medicines to protect public health.

The United States, Switzerland, Japan and Canada are resisting, arguing that such broad wording could allow countries to override patents on virtually any drug.

There are also major disagreements over agriculture between the European Union, the United States and exporting countries known as the Cairns Group.

The 15-nation EU has long demanded that free trade rules must allow for payments made to its farmers that it says are to promote rural development, food safety and environmental protection. Cairns Group countries, including Australia, Canada and Brazil, say such payments are unfair subsidies.