On September 18, 2001, in the lobby of a hotel in central Geneva, China was granted entry to the WTO. This date, coincidently enough, marked the eighteenth meeting of the Working Party for the Accession of China into the WTO (WPAC). 1 For almost 16 years the WPAC had been entrusted with the task of negotiating China's entry into the multilateral trading regime as defined by the GATT and then the WTO. 2 After many years of often torturous negotiations, China and its future GATT partners (represented by the working party) concluded their negotiations with a Working Party Report that was several hundreds pages in length and a Protocol of Accession that was nearly 900 pages long once annexes were included.
Although the official entry of China into the WTO would not occur until December 2001, as of the fall of 2001, China was able to take its place alongside the other major trading countries of the global economy. The unanswered and very large question left open for all those interested in the ongoing process of Chinese economic integration into the global economy was (and still is): “So where do we - China and the member countries of the WTO - go from here [e.g. after the accession]?” It is all well and good to have China as part of the WTO, but what of the reforms - economic, administrative and legal - that China must implement in order to comply with not only the letter but also the spirit of the accession protocol? And how will the multilateral trading regime advance and evolve now that such a large transitional state - with an economy that, by most standards, does not yet possess a market economy - is a fully fledged member? China remains a country where the economy is still dominated by large state-owned enterprises, a country where the rule of law remains problematic and where administrators seldom feel compelled to explain their decisions.
To answer the above question of “where do we go from here?” one needs to understand the debate that occurred “under-the-radar-screen” among trade, governmental and legislative decision-makers during the accession negotiations. These groups defined quite differently the entry conditions for China and the obligations that it