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2006 Report to Congress on China's WTO Compliance

This is the fifth annual report to Congress on compliance by China with commitments made in connection with its accession to the World Trade Organization. 

December 11, 2006
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
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When China acceded to the World Trade Organization on December 11, 2001, it committed to implement over time a set of sweeping reforms that required it to lower trade barriers in virtually every sector of the economy, provide national treatment and improved market access to goods and services imported from the United States and other WTO members, and protect intellectual property rights. Five years later, the deadlines for almost all of China’s commitments have passed, and China’s transition period as a new WTO Member is now essentially over. This report provides an assessment of China’s performance in meeting its WTO obligations during this transition period, with a particular emphasis on developments during the past year.
 
China has taken significant and often impressive steps to reform its economy since acceding to the WTO. During this period, China has repealed, revised or enacted more than one thousand laws, regulations and other measures in an effort to bring its trading system into basic compliance with WTO standards. China has also taken steps to implement numerous specific commitments pursuant to schedules set forth in its WTO accession agreement. Each year, China has made annual reductions in its tariff rates, eliminated non-tariff barriers, expanded market access for foreign services providers and improved transparency. All of these steps were designed to deepen China’s integration into the international trading system, as well as to facilitate and strengthen economic reforms that China had begun 20 years earlier. The United States – including U.S. workers, businesses, farmers, service providers and consumers – has benefitted significantly from these steps and continues to do so as U.S.-China trade grows.

 

Nevertheless, despite significant progress in many areas, China’s record in implementing WTO commitments is decidedly mixed. China continues to pursue problematic industrial policies that rely on trade-distorting measures such as local content requirements, import and export restrictions, discriminatory regulations and prohibited subsidies, all of which raise serious WTO concerns. China’s shortcomings in enforcing laws in areas where detailed WTO disciplines apply, such as intellectual property rights (IPR), have also created serious problems for the United States and its other trading partners.

U.S. industry traces many of the United States’ most difficult trade issues with China to excessive Chinese government intervention in the market through policy directives and the actions of individual officials. This government intervention, evident in many areas of China’s economy, is a reflection of China’s historic yet unfinished transition from a centrally planned economy to a free-market economy governed by rule of law. To some extent, these difficulties were anticipated. During the fifteen years of negotiations leading up to China’s WTO accession, the United States and other WTO members were aware of the state’s large role in China’s economy and carefully negotiated conditions for China’s WTO accession that would, when implemented, lead to significantly reduced levels of government intervention in the market and distortions in trade flows attributable to it.

Noteworthy progress was made as a result of economic reforms adopted by China before and in the first few years after its accession to the WTO. But, there are indications that progress toward further market liberalization slowed in 2006, as several U.S. trade associations highlighted in their written comments and testimony this Fall before USTR and the other agencies that comprise the Trade Policy Staff Committee.

One trade association official explained:

Recent public policy debates in China have indicated a dampening of enthusiasm in some quarters for foreign participation in the economy. Some in China also appear to want to expand the government’s role in directing the economy and in developing internationally competitive Chinese enterprises, while also restricting the role of international companies in certain sectors.

Another trade association official cautioned:

Over the past 12 months we have seen an upsurge in industrial planning measures as tools of economic development by central government authorities. China’s leaders currently face a choice: either to narrowly interpret WTO commitments and maximize the use of government intervention to protect and nurture Chinese industries, or to apply the letter and spirit of the WTO and recommit to the broadest possible use of markets to drive innovation, job creation, and economic growth. While IPR remains the number one issue in our bilateral economic relationship . . . , the continued and expanding use of government intervention and industrial policies . . . have the potential to create even sharper frictions in bilateral economic relations than IPR.

Developments evidencing this reduced momentum for economic reforms over the past year make clear that China has not yet fully institutionalized market mechanisms, and that some Chinese government agencies and officials have not yet fully embraced the key WTO principles of market access, non-discrimination, national treatment and transparency. A lack of consensus within China’s government and competing Chinese government priorities – including differences in views and approaches among China’s central, provincial and local governments – have also contributed to the reduced momentum for economic reforms, as have systemic rule of law problems.
 
Recognizing these challenges, USTR announced, in a “top-to-bottom” review of U.S.-China trade relations issued earlier this year, that it would adopt a dual-track approach to resolving its WTO concerns. The United States will continue to seek cooperative and pragmatic resolutions through bilateral dialogue with China, including the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) as well as ad hoc bilateral meetings and a variety of sector-specific dialogues. However, when bilateral dialogue fails to succeed in addressing U.S. concerns, the United States will not hesitate to exercise its WTO rights through the initiation of dispute settlement against China, as it would with any other mature WTO trading partner.

The United States achieved some important successes through bilateral dialogue in 2006, including at a JCCT meeting in April. At that meeting, China made several commitments related to IPR protection and enforcement, and it also committed to eliminate duplicative testing and certification requirements applicable to imported medical devices, to make adjustments to its registered capital requirements for telecommunications service providers, and to finalize a protocol allowing the resumption of trade in U.S. beef and beef products. China also reaffirmed past commitments to technology neutrality for 3G telecommunications standards and to ensuring that foreign express couriers would not be negatively impacted by new rules in the postal area. In addition, China committed to commence, by no later than December 31, 2007, formal negotiations to join the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement. Since the JCCT meeting in April, the United States has been working with China to make sure that it implements all of these commitments.

However, to date, other issues have evaded bilateral consensus, despite extensive dialogue. Issues like IPR criminal enforcement thresholds, certain market access concerns and WTO prohibited subsidies have resisted resolution in 2006. Although the United States has been making earnest efforts to resolve these concerns through bilateral discussions, it will have to pursue other options if the bilateral approach is not fruitful.

U.S. preparation for the pursuit of formal WTO dispute settlement has already facilitated resolution of one dispute in 2006, and another Chinese measure is now the subject of formal WTO dispute settlement. In January 2006, after the United States informed China that it would be filing a formal request for WTO consultations in a challenge to antidumping duties that China had imposed on imports of unbleached kraft linerboard from the United States, China rescinded the antidumping duties. This result enabled U.S. industry to obtain a faster resolution to this problem than would have been possible if the dispute settlement process had needed to run its course. In March 2006, the United States, acting in coordination with the European Communities (EC) and Canada, commenced a WTO dispute settlement case challenging Chinese rules that brought back prohibited local content requirements in the auto sector through the imposition of measures that discriminated unfairly against imported auto parts. More recently, in November 2006, the United States informed China that it would be filing a WTO consultations request with regard to certain IPR enforcement issues, but then agreed to hold off, with the support of U.S. industry, when China asked for further bilateral discussions.

Overall, several areas continue to cause particular concern for the United States and U.S. industry, in terms of China’s full adherence to its WTO commitments. The key concerns in each of these areas are summarized below.

Intellectual Property Rights

Since its accession to the WTO, China has been able to put in place a relatively good set of laws and regulations aimed at protecting the intellectual property rights of domestic and foreign right holders. However, some critical measures – such as those establishing high thresholds for criminal prosecution – still need to be revised, and China’s enforcement of its laws protecting the intellectual property rights covered by the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (the TRIPS Agreement) has often been ineffective. With many in U.S. industry reporting no significant reduction in IPR infringement levels again in 2006, counterfeiting and piracy in China remain at unacceptably high levels and cause serious economic harm to U.S. businesses in virtually every sector of the economy.

In 2006, the Administration continued to place the highest priority on improving IPR enforcement in China. One key focus of the United States’ bilateral engagement with China continued to be on working with China to improve its IPR enforcement regime so that significant reductions in IPR violations in China could be realized. The United States sought to build on its earlier engagement with China at the April 2004 and July 2005 JCCT meetings, and it placed China on the Special 301 “Priority Watch” list in 2005. Through the JCCT process in 2006, which included a meeting in April, China agreed to take some immediate steps to address particular problems and committed to take additional future actions. During the run-up to the JCCT meeting, China took enforcement actions against plants that produce pirated optical discs, and it issued new rules that require computers to be pre-installed with licensed operating system software. At the JCCT meeting itself , China committed to ensure the legalization of software used in Chinese enterprises, to pursue increased cooperation to combat pirated goods displayed at trade fairs in China, and to intensify efforts to eliminate infringing products at major consumer markets in China. The two sides further agreed that they would increase cooperation between their respective law enforcement and customs authorities and that the United States would provide China with additional technical assistance to assist it in fully implementing the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Internet treaties, which address the increasingly important area of copyright protection over electronic information networks.

Despite this progress, China continues to deflect calls from the United States and other WTO members for better utilization of criminal remedies to combat rampant IPR infringement in China, claiming that its combination of administrative, civil and criminal enforcement is increasingly effective. The available statistics on continuing massive IPR infringement in China raise obvious questions about this claim. The United States and other WTO members have been unable to review details concerning China’s administrative, civil and criminal enforcement system because of China’s lack of transparency. In an attempt to better assess this situation, the United States, Japan and Switzerland submitted requests to China under Article 63.3 of the TRIPS Agreement in October 2005, seeking detailed information from China on its IPR enforcement efforts over the prior four years. China has provided only limited information in response, hampering the United States’ ability to evaluate what steps are being taken to try to address the rampant IPR infringement found throughout China.

The United States remains committed to working constructively with China to significantly reduce IPR infringement levels in China and continues to devote extra staff and resources, both in Washington and in Beijing, to address the many aspects of this issue. At the same time, when bilateral discussions prove unable to resolve key differences on particular issues, the United States remains prepared to take action, including WTO dispute settlement, where appropriate, to ensure that China develops and implements an effective system of IPR enforcement, as required by the TRIPS Agreement.

Industrial Policies

China has continued to resort to industrial policies that limit market access for non-Chinese origin goods and foreign service providers, and that provide substantial government resources to support Chinese industries and increase exports. In some cases, the objective of these policies seems to be to promote the development of Chinese industries that are higher up the economic value chain than the industries that make up China’s current labor-intensive base. In other cases, China appears simply to be protecting less competitive domestic industries.

In 2006, examples of these industrial policies remain readily evident. One obvious example is China’s regulations on auto parts tariffs, issued last year, which serve to prolong prohibited local content requirements for motor vehicles – a matter that is currently the subject of a WTO dispute brought by the United States, the EC and Canada. Other examples include the telecommunications regulator’s continuing interference in commercial negotiations over royalty payments to intellectual property rights holders in the area of 3G standards, the continuing pursuit of unique national standards in many areas of high technology that could lead to the extraction of technology or intellectual property from foreign right holders, a July 2005 industrial policy that calls for the state’s management of nearly every major aspect of China’s steel industry, export restrictions on raw materials like coke, and excessive government subsidization benefitting a range of domestic industries in China. Worrisome new measures over the past year include new requirements for state control of “critical” equipment manufacturers, revised rules for foreign mergers and acquisitions that confer broad and vaguely defined powers on the government to block investments in a range of industries, and plans to steer government purchases to domestic manufacturers to promote innovation in Chinese enterprises. Some of these policies appear to conflict with China’s WTO commitments in the areas of market access, national treatment and technology transfer, among others.

The United States and China made little progress in resolving U.S. concerns regarding these industrial policies in 2006. China did reaffirm its commitment to technology neutrality for 3G telecommunications standards, but serious disagreements over a number of other industrial policies remain, including China’s continued use of prohibited subsidies. The United States will again press China on these matters in 2007 and will take further appropriate actions seeking elimination of these policies, including WTO dispute settlement, where appropriate.

Trading Rights and Distribution Services

China was scheduled to phase in two key WTO commitments by December 11, 2004. These commitments called for full liberalization of trading rights – the right to import and export – and distribution services, including wholesale and retail services, franchising services and related services. Although delay and confusion initially characterized China’s efforts to implement its distribution services commitments, China was able to largely overcome these problems in 2006, prodded by consistent and determined U.S. engagement. U.S. companies and individuals in most sectors are now not only able to import and export goods in China directly without having to use a middleman, but are also able to establish their own distribution networks within China. Many in U.S. industry consider trading rights and distribution services to be “the most important of the WTO commitments China has so far implemented,” according to one trade association with broad representation.

Nevertheless, some problems still remain in critical areas. In particular, China continues to maintain import and distribution restrictions on several types of products, including foreign publications such as books, periodicals and audio and video products, in apparent contravention of China’s trading rights and distribution services commitments. These restrictions reduce and delay market access for these copyrighted products, creating additional incentives for infringement in China’s market. Another key area involves China’s commitment to open its market for sales away from a fixed location, also known as “direct selling.” Initially delayed, China’s implementation of this commitment has since proceeded slowly and has subjected foreign direct sellers to unwarranted restrictions on their business operations. The United States will continue to pursue these important issues in 2007 to ensure that China fully meets its commitments and will take further appropriate actions seeking the revision or elimination of problematic policies, including through WTO dispute settlement, where appropriate.

Agriculture

U.S. agricultural exports to China in 2005 totaled $5.2 billion, with China becoming the United States’ fourth largest agricultural export market. To date, 2006 has been an even more successful year. U.S. exports of agricultural commodities, particularly cotton and wheat, have continued to increase dramatically in recent years, and U.S. exports of soybeans continued to perform strongly – on target in 2006 to well exceed $2 billion for the fourth year in a row, with China remaining the leading export destination for U.S. soybeans.

While U.S. exports of agricultural commodities largely fulfill the potential envisioned by U.S. negotiators during the years leading up to China’s WTO accession, China’s WTO implementation in the agricultural sector continues to be plagued by uncertainty, largely because of selective intervention in the market by China’s regulatory authorities. As in past years, capricious practices by Chinese customs and quarantine officials can delay or halt shipments of agricultural products into China, while sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards with questionable scientific bases and a generally opaque regulatory regime frequently bedevil traders in agricultural commodities, who require as much predictability and transparency as possible in order to preserve margins and reduce the already substantial risks involved in agricultural trade. As a result, trade with China in the agricultural sector remains among the least transparent and predictable of the world’s major markets.

In 2007, the United States will continue to pursue vigorous bilateral engagement with China in order to obtain progress on its outstanding concerns, particularly with regard to China’s ban on the importation of U.S. beef and beef products. This issue is emblematic of the problems that U.S. exporters face with non-transparent application of SPS measures, many of which appear to lack scientific bases and impeded market access for many U.S. agricultural products in 2006, particularly exports of consumer-ready and value-added products.

Services

Overall, the United States enjoyed a substantial surplus in trade in services with China in 2006, as in prior years, and the market for U.S. service providers in China remains promising. However, in some sectors, the expectations of the United States and other WTO members when agreeing to China’s commitments to increase market access and remove restrictions have still not been fully realized. Chinese regulatory authorities continue to frustrate efforts of U.S. providers of banking, insurance, motor vehicle financing, telecommunications, construction and engineering, legal and other services to achieve their full market potential in China through the use of an opaque regulatory process, overly burdensome licensing and operating requirements, and other means.

In 2006, U.S. engagement led to some positive developments. China’s insurance regulators continued to participate in a dialogue on insurance issues, and China made a commitment at the April 2006 JCCT meeting to adjust capital requirements for telecommunications services providers, although it has been slow to follow through on that commitment. China also reiterated its commitments at the April 2004 and July 2005 JCCT meetings not to negatively affect the regulatory environment for foreign providers of express delivery services via new postal rules being drafted.

At the same time, some new concerns arose in 2006. Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, issued rules in September 2006 imposing new restrictions on foreign providers of financial information services, in apparent contravention of China’s WTO obligations. In addition, a variety of problematic proposals were circulated by Chinese regulators as China prepared to implement important financial services commitments scheduled to be phased in by December 11, 2006. In 2007, the United States will continue to engage China and will closely monitor developments in these areas in an effort to ensure that China fully adheres to its commitments.

Transparency

One of the fundamental principles of the WTO Agreement, reinforced throughout China’s WTO accession agreement, is transparency. Adherence to this principle permits markets to function effectively and reduces opportunities for officials to engage in trade-distorting practices behind closed doors. While China’s transparency commitments in many ways require a profound historical shift, China made important strides to improve transparency across a wide range of national and provincial authorities during the first four years of its WTO membership, although two shortcomings stood out. By the beginning of 2006, China had still not adopted a single official journal for publishing all trade-related measures, and it had yet to regularize the use of notice-and-comment procedures for new or revised trade-related measures prior to implementation, despite having made commitments to do so. In March 2006, after the United States elevated this issue to the JCCT level, China finally adopted a single official journal, although much work remains for China to ensure full participation by all relevant government entities. The United States has also pushed China to adopt a mandatory notice-and-comment practice, but, to date, this practice remains optional in China. As a result, as 2006 was drawing to a close, many of China’s regulatory regimes continued to suffer from systemic opacity, frustrating efforts of foreign – and domestic – businesses to achieve the potential benefits of China’s WTO accession.

Conclusion

In 2007, the Administration will continue its relentless efforts to ensure China’s full implementation of specific WTO commitments and full adherence to China’s ongoing obligations as a WTO member, with particular emphasis on reducing IPR infringement levels in China, and on pressing China to make greater efforts to institutionalize market mechanisms and make its trade regime more predictable and transparent. Throughout this process, the Administration will use a dual-track approach. The Administration remains committed to working cooperatively and pragmatically with China to ensure that the benefits of China’s WTO membership are realized by U.S. workers, businesses, farmers, service providers and consumers and that problems in our trade relationship are appropriately resolved. The new, high-level U.S.- China Strategic Economic Dialogue, scheduled to begin in December 2006, demonstrates that commitment and promises to provide a useful framework for understanding and supporting, at a broader level, key bilateral problem-solving efforts, such as the JCCT process and other bilateral dialogues. When bilateral dialogue is not successful, however, the Administration will not hesitate to employ the full range of enforcement tools available as a result of China’s accession to the WTO, whether it be the dispute settlement procedures at the WTO or the strict enforcement of U.S. trade laws to ensure that U.S. interests are not harmed by unfair trade broader level, key bilateral problem-solving efforts, such as the JCCT process and other bilateral dialogues. When bilateral dialogue is not successful, however, the Administration will not hesitate to employ the full range of enforcement tools available as a result of China’s accession to the WTO, whether it be the dispute settlement procedures at the WTO or the strict enforcement of U.S. trade laws to ensure that U.S. interests are not harmed by unfair trade practices.

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