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No "discount" WTO membership for China

Swiss Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin Tuesday came out in support of China’s membership of the Geneva-based World Trade Organisation, but added that there should be no “discount” arrangements for Beijing.

This content was published on November 9, 1999 - 18:14

Swiss Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin Tuesday came out in support of China’s membership of the Geneva-based World Trade Organisation, but added that there should be no “discount” arrangements for Beijing.

“China is a major power in the world and should become a full WTO member – perhaps provisionally at first – with all the rights and obligations this entails,” Couchepin told a news conference after holding talks with Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji in the Chinese capital.

The talks were part of the Swiss minister’s week-long visit, which is aimed at boosting 50 years of diplomatic relations and expanding Switzerland’s economic presence in the Asian market.

Switzerland is already one of the major economic players in China, with direct investments totalling $2 billion. On Monday, Couchepin formally opened a Swiss tourist office in Beijing – the first such European business representation in the capital.

Couchepin also told Zhu that Switzerland would like to see the same market access as Beijing allows its big trading partners. In particular, the economics minister pushed the interests of Switzerland’s financial and insurance services in China.

Unhindered market access will be a key issue at the WTO ministerial conference in the U.S. city of Seattle on November 30.

China has been seeking WTO membership for more than a decade and it cannot play an active role in the Seattle round of trade liberalisation talks without membership of the world trade watchdog.

In order to accepted as a member, China needs to conclude separate market access agreements with several trading partners, most importantly the United States and the European Union.

Swiss political observers have been keeping a close eye on Couchepin’s visit in order to see whether there are any trade repercussions for Switzerland in the wake of a diplomatic row, which marred President Jiang Zemin’s visit to Switzerland eight months ago.

Protests over Tibet at the time prompted Jiang to lecture the Swiss about hospitality and security, and he said that Switzerland had “lost a friend.”

But Andres Leuenberger, the head of Switzerland's leading industrial organisation, the Swiss Trade and Industry Association, played down the impact.

“That incident did not have a negative influence on our visit. We were received in a very friendly way,” Leuenberger told the news conference Tuesday.

From staff and wire reports.

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