China became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 11 December 2001, following approval by the Ministerial Conference.  China`s accession to the WTO was preceded by a long negotiation process and required significant changes in the Chinese economy. On 15 November 1999, the United States and China finally signed a pioneering agreement on China`s accession to the WTO. With President Nixon`s visit to Beijing in 1972 and President Carter`s extension of diplomatic recognition of China, China`s WTO accession agreement will be an important step towards China`s membership in the world. Until the 1970s, China`s economy was run by the communist government and far removed from other economies. With political reforms, China began opening up its economy in the early 1980s and signed a series of regional trade agreements. China was granted observer status with the GATT and began working towards gatt membership in 1986. China wanted to be admitted as a founding member of the WTO (which it would confirm as a world power), but this attempt was thwarted because the United States, European countries and Japan asked China to first reform various customs policies, including tariff reductions, open markets and industrial policy. At the beginning of Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji`s visit to the United States, the two governments express hope that the trip will kick-start a breakthrough in China`s protracted efforts to become a member of the World Trade Organization. China`s chief trade negotiator, Long Yongtu, has reportedly been given new power to strike a deal. Several senior officials from the office of the U.S. Trade Representative visited China in the early months of 1999 to revive bilateral accession talks, which have been stalled for months.
Despite this improved atmosphere, both sides face enormous obstacles in reaching an agreement. In fact, they have increased since President Bill Clinton`s trip to China in mid-1998, when the previous attempt to advance negotiations failed. The United States and China are stepping up negotiations on China`s membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in hopes of paving the way for the announcement of an agreement during a visit by Premier Zhu Rongji in early April. Their task is daunting, however, as each side has less room for maneuver than it did last year, when an attempt to resolve long-standing disputes over China`s membership terms ahead of the Clinton-Jiang summit failed. In China, economic growth is weakening, unemployment is at historic highs, and social unrest is bogged down. In the United States, the increase in the bilateral trade deficit with China increases political pressure for a much broader market access agreement. There are also demands to deny China WTO membership as a sanction. Despite such restrictions, it is the policy of the United States to pursue a strong agreement.
It would strengthen the WTO, improve access to U.S. products in China, and offer China a fixed timeline for the full opening of its markets. On November 15, 1999, the United States and China finally signed a pioneering agreement on China`s accession to the WTO. Without the efforts of both China and the United States to repair the damage done in the spring, an agreement would have been delayed indefinitely. China`s WTO accession agreement, with President Nixon`s visit to Beijing in 1972 and President Carter`s extension of Diplomatic Recognition of China, will be an important step towards China`s membership in the world.