TRADE POLICY REVIEW:
Concluding remarks by the Chairperson
- Trade Policy Review: China
This eighth Trade Policy Review of China has indeed allowed us to better understand the important developments in the economic, trade and investment regime of China over the last three years. I would like to thank the Chinese delegation headed by Mr. WANG Wentao, Minister of Commerce, for their very active participation and engagement in this exercise.
I would also like to thank our discussant, Ambassador Xolelwa MLUMBI-PETER, Permanent Representative of the Republic of South Africa to the WTO, for her remarks and insightful words that have propelled these discussions, as well as the 65 delegations which took the floor during this meeting.
Members commended China for its overall solid economic performance during the review period and noticed that the Chinese economy had continued to be a major driver of global economic growth. They noted that the outbreak of the COVID‑19 pandemic had a major impact on China's output and employment in 2020, but underlined that China's economy had shown remarkable resilience in the wake of the health crisis.
Many Members stressed that rapid economic development, induced by market-oriented reforms, had lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and provided a high level of prosperity to many of China's citizens.
Recalling that 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of China's WTO accession, Members praised its active participation in, and commitment to, the WTO. They appreciated China's role in trade negotiations and as a major contributor to the multilateral-trading system. In particular, Members welcomed its constructive participation in the Joint Statement Initiatives and plurilateral discussions.
Noting that China benefited enormously from the multilateral trading system, some Members urged it to assume more responsibility commensurate to its trade weight to uphold and defend WTO principles. Many Members also recognized China's participation in regional integration and took note of its growing network of free-trade agreements.
Members welcomed China's stated commitment to continued trade liberalization. With regard to tariffs, Members applauded China for unilaterally reducing MFN applied tariffs on a wide range of products and for providing preferential tariff treatment to LDCs. China was encouraged to continue tariff liberalization initiatives, particularly on agricultural products where tariffs were considered to be still relatively high.
It was also widely commended for its various other measures to facilitate trade and reduce overall customs clearance times as well as for fully implementing the WTO's Trade Facilitation Agreement ahead of schedule. China was encouraged to continue these reforms, to reduce disruptions still being encountered as well as to facilitate trade in agricultural and perishable products.On investment, Members recognized China's steps to create a more attractive investment environment and welcomed recent liberalization in financial services and the negative list approach China had begun to adopt. China was encouraged to further streamline administrative measures for foreign investors and relax the remaining restrictions on foreign participation. However, various Members indicated that foreign companies established in China still reported significant issues relating to unequal treatment with local companies, inconsistent application of regulations, hidden subsidies, and business environment that was perceived as increasingly politicized.
Many Members showed appreciation for China's support given to developing and least‑developed countries. In this context, China was commended for the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, for providing preferential tariff treatment to LDCs, for its ongoing participation in the Aid for Trade Initiative, and for its overall engagement in South-South cooperation.
For many Members, the lack of transparency with regard to China's state measures was an issue of fundamental concern. Members noted a generally opaque subsidy regime and the lack of timely notifications on key issues such as state-trading enterprises and domestic support and encouraged China to submit these notifications. Members underlined that transparency was a fundamental WTO principle and urged China to fully comply with its transparency commitments.
The role of state-owned enterprises was also an issue of interest; many Members highlighted the importance of SOEs in China's economy and expressed concerns about implicit support to SOEs and distortions created by them. In this context, Members recalled China's accession commitments and urged it to speed up reforms and fully embrace market-oriented policies.
Members expressed support for China's efforts to promote the use of clean energy and the recent establishment of a carbon emission trading system, with a view to decarbonizing its economy. They congratulated China for this step and were interested in more details on the actions it would be taking to achieve its 2030 and 2060 emission targets.
Several Members raised concerns about China's SPS regime, including that emergency measures taken in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic were without scientific justification and that new regulations to be introduced on overseas producers of imported food were unclear and potentially trade restrictive. China was asked to review these regulations or delay their implementation dates to allow businesses sufficient time for compliance. China was encouraged to ensure its SPS measures are transparent and do not arbitrarily block imports.
Some Members also voiced concerns over a general increase in non-transparent and discriminatory measures and practices in China, sometimes in response to political disagreements with other trading partners. They urged China to take measures to end non-transparent and discriminatory measures.
Other issues of concern for some Members included: continuously insufficient IPR protection, laws and regulations related to cybersecurity and data management, a very wide definition of national security, insufficient measures to address steel overcapacity, and the use of forced labour in China's economy.
With respect to fisheries, Members were encouraged by China's recent initiatives, including the termination of its own subsidy programmes as well as its indication that it will not seek full special and differential treatment in negotiations on fisheries subsidies. China's intention to crack down on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing was also welcomed and China was asked to ensure its controls are effective.
China received a very high number of written questions, more than 1'600, and has provided timely replies to nearly all of them, of which Members were highly appreciative. This TPR will be successfully concluded once replies to any outstanding and follow-up questions are received in one month's time. The large number of questions and active engagement by over 60 delegations is testament to the importance of China to the multilateral trading system.
The Trade Policy Review Mechanism indeed has an important role for engendering constructive dialogue among Members and in increasing transparency. May I then add my word of congratulations to China on the successful conclusion of its eighth Trade Policy Review and thank all the delegations for their cooperation and assistance.