Editor's note: This article was completed before China's accession was accomplished. One of the authors, Claude Barfield, is now working on a monograph that will both describe Chinese trade and investment patterns, particularly within East Asia, and the changes China has made in its legal and administrative rules to accommodate WTO membership.
With the signing of the bilateral agreement between China and the United States, China is now poised to enter the World Trade Organization, the multilateral institution governing international trade in goods and services. While other final hurdles have to be cleared, such as the passage of permanent normal trade relations by the US Congress and the conclusion of a few more bilateral agreements (particularly the European Union), the broad outlines of China's market access commitments are now clear.
The successful conclusion of the US-China bilateral agreement in November 1999 surprised many. Just several months earlier, in April 1999, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji put forward a similar market access offer during his visit to Washington that was rejected by a Clinton administration under pressure from labor unions. A double blow was dealt one month later with the accidental bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo crisis by NATO forces.
In the aftermath of the rejection of Zhu's offer and the embassy bombing, the Clinton administration came under a barrage of criticism and it is widely known that many within the White House considered Clinton's actions in April a mistake. Eager to move past what was arguably the worst year in Sino-US relations since the Tiananmen Square incident took place in 1989, 1 the Clinton administration made a concerted effort to correct its April mistake.
The timing of the November 1999 bilateral agreement between the United States and China was also propitious in that it came on the eve of the Seattle Ministerial. There is evidence that Clinton knew the Seattle meeting would end in disaster, which, in fact, it did. The signing of the US-China agreement on the eve of Seattle, while by no means guaranteed (there is credible evidence that the United States almost walked away on several occasions), there is good reason to believe that US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky was under intense pressure to conclude a deal.
On almost all accounts, the deal reached by China and the United States entails a