China and the Long March to Global Trade: The Accession of China to the World Trade Organization

By Sylvia Ostry; Alan S. Alexandroff et al. | Go to book overview

2

The WTO

Post Seattle and Chinese accession

Sylvia Ostry

Introduction

The saying that timing is everything is particularly apt - even if somewhat dismal - in trying to assess the impact of China's accession to the WTO. If China had joined the GATT in the 1980s, the negotiations would have centered on traditional trade issues or border barriers. The negotiations would probably have been difficult but since China was well embarked on a reform policy, including trade liberalization which would have been facilitated by GATT accession, the impact on China and the trading system would have been, on balance, welfare enhancing.

But the transformation of the system wrought by the Uruguay Round and its after-effects rather dramatically changes the conditions for access, and also changes the likely impact of Chinese accession on the WTO as well as the impact of the WTO on China. This is a vast subject, of course, and this chapter will be selective. Three main issues will be discussed: the North-South divide in the WTO; the rise of the environmental movement; and the increasing legalization of the WTO. In this concluding section I shall try to highlight the implications of these changes for Chinese accession.


The North-South divide in the WTO

The Uruguay Round could be characterized as a North-South Grand Bargain. Prior to the Uruguay Round developing countries negotiated mainly to secure unreciprocated access to OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries' markets. Most lacked the expertise and analytical resources for trade policy-making but that really did not matter much because the focus of negotiations was on border barriers for industrial products, and also because agriculture was largely excluded. The tried and true GATT model of reciprocity worked well as the negotiations were led by the United States and managed by the transatlantic alliance with the European Community. The so-called Third World was largely ignored as a player in the multilateral trading system.

The Uruguay Round was a watershed in the evolution of the multilateral trading system. For the first time agriculture was at the centre of the negotiations and the European effort to block the launch of the negotiations, in order to avoid coming to

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