Monday, March 29, 1999

U.S. trade official makes impromptu trip to China

The Associated Press

        WASHINGTON — U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky left on short notice Sunday to join negotiations under way in Beijing on China's bid to enter the World Trade Organization (WTO).

        A U.S. trade official, speak ing on condition of anonymity, cautioned against speculating that Ms. Barshefsky's last-minute decision to fly to Beijing meant that the negotiations were close to being wrapped up, saying “substantial gaps remain.”

        “We don't envision this trip will result in a final package,” the official said. “Rather, it is to work on remaining differences and maintain momentum towards creation of a commercially viable package.”

        U.S. negotiators have reported several breakthroughs in recent weeks as China has put better market-opening offers on the table in hopes of winning agreement before an April 8 trip to the United States by Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji.

        China has sought membership in the WTO or its predecessor trade body for 13 years. But to gain entry, it must satisfy demands by large trading partners such as the United States that it has done enough to lower trade barriers.

        The United States has long complained that a good part of its trade deficit with China, which last year hit a record $57 billion, results from unfair barriers to sales of U.S. manufactured goods, farm products and services such as banking and insurance.


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