High-powered teams of U.S. and Chinese negotiators today entered a second day of last-ditch talks to salvage China's bid to join the World Trade Organization. A spokesman for the U.S. side said Wednesday's meetings had been "more detailed and substantive than any recent talks."
In Washington, Richard Fisher, the deputy U.S. trade representative, cautioned that the United States would agree to a trade deal only if the terms were right. "We won't do a deal for a deal's sake," Fisher said. "Unless it's a good deal, it's not going to happen."
Fisher was speaking as U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky huddled in Beijing with a large team of Chinese officials, led by Foreign Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng and including representatives from the central bank and other central government bodies, ranging from the Finance Ministry to the State Petrochemical Industry Bureau.
"This shows how positive and serious we are about the negotiations," Shi said.
"We appreciate very much the strength and breadth of your team, many of whom are very well known to us," Barshefsky said.
Barshefsky's team included U.S. presidential economic adviser Gene Sperling, who told his Chinese interlocutors that President Clinton had dispatched him "to make clear his belief that we have a historical opportunity." Treasury, State Department, Commerce Department and National Security Council officials also accompanied Barshefsky.
A spokesman for Barskefsky said she had characterized Wednesday's meetings as substantive, a marked change from the last few negotiating sessions. Still, as of this morning, he said, the U.S. team had no plans to stay in China longer than two days. A report on the official New China News Agency intimated that China might ask the U.S. side to delay its departure, scheduled for Friday morning.
China has been trying to get into a global trade body for 13 years. Both the United States and China have said they hope to complete a trade deal before ministers from 134 countries gather in Seattle for a meeting from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3 to launch a new round of global trade negotiations.
"We will make every effort to secure a commercially meaningful transaction," Fisher said at a conference on the upcoming WTO meeting. "The fact is, we haven't squared our corners yet. We don't have a commercially meaningful deal."
Fisher said U.S. negotiators had to satisfy Congress as well as American businesses. Congressional support is needed because Congress would have to relinquish its annual reviews of Beijing's low-tariff trade treatment and vote to grant it that benefit permanently.
Negotiations are expected to be tough. China offered the United States a deal on April 7 that committed China to a series of significant market-opening measures. Clinton rejected it in a move that many now see as a serious policy mistake. China has said the new deal must be on softer terms than the April 7 offer; in Washington today, Commerce Secretary William Daley said China would have to go beyond previous market-opening commitments for a deal to be won.
Several Chinese businessmen and officials in Beijing said they did not know whether the government would embrace the chance to enter the WTO. There is strong opposition to the market-opening measures here by a group that combines political conservatives and certain powerful ministries, such as the Ministry of Information Industries, that would lose monopolies if China's markets were opened.
Prime Minister Zhu Rongji is known to favor China's accession to the world trade body because he would be able to use it as a way to further force China's state-owned enterprises to reform. Zhu was severely weakened in recent months by the poor performance of China's economy and by his failure to secure Clinton's support on the April 7 proposal. Accession would greatly benefit him and his plans to reform China's economy, analysts say.
The issues that divide the two sides are the same as the issues in April. The United States wants China to open up its telecommunications and financial sectors. Washington also wants China to agree to quotas on textile exports, to be phased out over time. Washington also wants anti-dumping measures to protect American firms.
China wants to make it harder to slap anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese goods, which affect $10 billion of Chinese exports to the United States a year.
CAPTION: Chinese Foreign Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng, center, and chief trade negotiator Long Yongtu greet U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky before their meeting in Beijing.