China's Command Economy Slows Bid to Join GATT

Article excerpt

CHINA plans to push on tomorrow with what foreign analysts call its uphill effort to enter the group of nations that referees world trade.

Chinese officials hope to convince the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in Geneva that China's economy and foreign trade system meet the free-market standards of the world body. GATT regulates 80 percent of global trade.

As a member of GATT, Beijing would enjoy a reduction in tariffs with some foreign nations and gain a voice in setting trade rules.

Membership would also commit China to free-trade standards and so buoy its checkered campaign to ease state controls over commerce, says Wang Shichun, of the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade.

China is eager to win influence in the 96-member organization because of its growing dependence on access to markets abroad, Western diplomats say.

Last year China logged exports of $52.5 billion - equivalent to 16 percent of the value of its gross national product. The importance of trade to the economy has expanded dramatically since China renounced the Maoist ideal of self-sufficiency for an open-door policy in 1978.

Western diplomats and other analysts, however, don't give Beijing much of a chance in its latest of several applications to GATT since 1986.

"Obviously, their (China's) system still falls well short of being compatible with the standards of GATT," a Western diplomat who specializes on China's economy said on condition of anonymity.

China's bureaucrats strictly manage most sectors of the socialist economy, including commerce. Beijing strengthened such controls two years ago as part of a policy of retrenchment and tightened them still further after the Army crackdown on pro-democracy activists in June 1989. …