Now in trade group, China braces for economic fallout

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

BEIJING -- From her post behind a McDonald's cash register, Ms. Yang hears official talk of opportunity and economic reform spurred by the World Trade Organization. But what she looked forward to on China's first day of WTO membership was simpler: new clothes.

"I want to see more fashions," Yang, 23, said Tuesday at a shopping mall in Shanghai, China's bustling business capital. "The Chinese-made fashions are getting better, but the best are from overseas," said Yang, who would only give her family name.

China formally joined global trade's rule-making body Tuesday, triggering changes that promise more choices for consumers, more opportunity for foreign investors and more challenges for Chinese farms and factories.

Beijing has promised to pry open its markets and industries to foreigners as the WTO's 143rd member.

Private entrepreneurs stand to benefit from changes demanded by China's trading partners, including ending monopolies and special treatment for state firms. But farmers and state industry face an onslaught of cheaper imports.

Officials say the changes will be the most important since China launched capitalist-style economic reforms in 1979.

"For China it is a great day," the newspaper Economic Daily said on its front page.

But after 15 years of negotiations and a steady flow of propaganda, many Chinese found Tuesday anticlimactic.

"For us ordinary folks, it's not much of an event," said Wang Dawei, a mobile-phone salesman in Beijing.

China still has to make sweeping legal changes to conform to WTO rules on opening its markets to foreign competitors. More than 1,000 laws and rules must be changed, said the People's Daily, the main Communist Party newspaper.

But just getting China into the WTO gives the world trading system a morale boost at a time of slowing economies.

Sun Min, chairman of Jiangling Motors in the southern city of Nanchang, said WTO membership would end encumbering government regulation.

"For the auto industry, it's a good thing, but we must face the reality that the competition is going to get fiercer," he wrote recently in the Economic Evening News.

The hardest-hit area will be the countryside, home to some 900 million Chinese. Millions are expected to be thrown out of work as inefficient farms face an influx of cheaper foreign food.

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