China vows to open up market, but US sees no change

WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, 09 December 2019, during the opening of the World Trade Organization (WTO) General Council. [EPA-EFE/SALVATORE DI NOLFI]

China on Wednesday (20 October) promised the World Trade Organization it would further open its vast market, but the United States swiftly countered that Beijing showed “no inclination to change”.

Beijing made the pledges during a WTO review of China’s trade practices, an exercise held behind closed doors that all 164 members of the global trade body undergo on a regular basis.

In a report released by the WTO, China proposed to accelerate efforts to foster “a new development paradigm” — a strategy in which the domestic and international markets reinforce each other, with the domestic market as “the mainstay”.

“By fully tapping the potential of domestic demand, the new development paradigm serves to better connect the domestic and international markets, makes better use of both international and domestic markets and resources, and achieves stronger and more sustainable development.”

Beijing believes the potential vast market for domestic demand among China’s 1.4 billion people would be “fully unleashed” by the plan.

China has regularly pledged to further open up its market over the years, but its trade practices frequently come under criticism.

Beijing has been fighting a trade war with Washington over accusations that it does not play fair.

Beijing is also facing battles with Australia at the WTO. Canberra is challenging Chinese tariffs on barley and has objected to sanctions on a string of other goods.

Last month, Australia asked the WTO to rule against China’s imposition of crippling tariffs on Australian wine exports.

In the report, China said it wanted to implement a “more proactive import policy” and further its pilot free trade zones and ports.

As for the climate crisis, the document reaffirmed that China would strive to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060.

The last review of Chinese trade policies was in 2018. The United States, under president Donald Trump, questioned China’s legitimacy in the WTO, accusing Beijing of not opening up its market sufficiently.

Responding to the review, David Bisbee, the chargé d’affaires at the US permanent mission to the WTO, said expectations that China would embrace open, market-oriented policies have not been realised.

“It appears that China has no inclination to change,” he said.

“Instead, China has used the imprimatur of WTO membership to become the WTO’s largest trader, while doubling down on its state-led, non-market approach to trade, to the detriment of workers and businesses in the United States and other countries.

“Our most fundamental concerns with China’s trade regime remain unaddressed.”

European Union ambassador to the WTO Joao Aguiar Machado in a speech condemned “competition distortions” caused by the activities of state-owned enterprises and called on China to “fully observe its WTO accession commitments by improving transparency and by eliminating these distortions”.

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