The United States and China announced Saturday that they agreed on several issues blocking Beijing's entry into the World Trade Organization, paving the way for Chinese membership in the global trade body later this year.
The agreement, reached after negotiations that lasted until 3 a.m. Friday in Shanghai, was a surprise not only because China had been dragging its feet until recently, but also because U.S.-China relations have been particularly frosty since the collision April 1 between a U.S. reconnaissance plane and a Chinese fighter. Whether the trade deal signals warmer relations between Washington and Beijing remains to be seen, but the agreement at least underscores that both sides are determined to pursue their trade relationship despite differences over security and other issues.
China still must complete similar deals with the European Union and other trading partners. But the agreement between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and his Chinese counterpart, Shi Guangsheng, vastly increases the likelihood that Beijing will meet the requirements for WTO membership in time for a November meeting of trade ministers in Qatar.
Both the Clinton and Bush administrations have strongly favored bringing China into the Geneva-based trade organization. That is partly because of opportunities that would be created for U.S. firms in China's potentially vast market, and partly because of the belief that WTO membership would make Beijing more likely to observe the rules followed by other countries in international trade and political interactions.
The willingness of Chinese trade negotiators to make a deal suggests that elements in Beijing's leadership who were wary of opening markets have been defeated, at least for now, by policymakers who believe that lowering barriers and strengthening property rights will lead to greater long-run prosperity.
China and the United States first agreed on Beijing's WTO membership in 1999, but China had balked at additional terms required for entry.