The European Union will hold talks with China this month about its entry into the World Trade Organization, mirroring discussions under way in the United States.
The EU's chief negotiators will meet with China's Assistant Minister of Trade, Long Yongtu, here March 17-18.The talks will complement a March 19 assembly of representatives from industrialized and developing countries called by Pierre Louis Girard, the Swiss chairman of the WTO entry talks on China. That discussion will be an attempt to gauge whether the conditions are appropriate to resume the stalled talks with China. No round of entry talks have been held since July.
''We intend to push the Chinese'' on free-trade issues, a senior EU official based in Brussels said. ''There is still a lot we expect from the Chinese on goods and services.''
Joining the WTO would give China low-tariff access to export markets and protect it from some sanctions but the West wants Beijing first to lower more of its tariffs on goods and get rid of other trade barriers.
Meanwile, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ended a three-day visit to China Tuesday with hopes of striking a trade deal with Beijing this spring.
Indeed, Ms. Albright said there's a chance the United States and China will reach a deal for China to join the WTO and that U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky was coming to China this week with ''a new proposal.''
''A successful outcome will be a great step forward in integrating China into the world economy,'' Reuters quoted her as saying, adding that a deal could help reduce the U.S.-Chinese trade deficit, which hit a record $57 billion last year.
The hope is to complete negotiations in time for an announcement when Chinese premier Zhu Rongi visits the White House in April to see President Clinton, U.S. and Chinese officials said.
Ms. Albright told Chinese leaders that Premier Zhu, who is in charge of economic matters in China and badly wants a WTO deal, must come to Washington ready to make progress on human rights and other tough issues such as high technology transfers and Taiwan.
''The atmosphere is good, but the devil is in the details when it comes to trade agreements,'' said State Department spokesman James P. Rubin.
The EU official in Brussels said China's positions on banking, insurance and distribution services were inadequate, singling out telecommunications as one major problem.
The West expects China's State Council to open China's market to foreign competition before the WTO talks conclude.
The EU and the United States have asked China to alter its policy in transportation services, such as freight forwarding and courier services.
Beijing is also expected to be more forthcoming in areas such as peak tariffs of 15 percent or higher.
Industrialized countries also expect China to comply with the low-duty chemical harmonization formula that was agreed to in the last global round of trade talks.
Western negotiators attribute the current lack of progress to the failure of the Chinese leaders to deliver market-access proposals on a host of sensitive areas, ranging from agriculture to telecommunications.
Some WTO representatives from large industrialized countries are taking a wait-and-see approach. ''We've had our expectations raised so many times only to see them flounder,'' said one ambassador. Sino-U.S. presidential summits were held in October 1997 and June 1998.