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Punke: China's lack of transparency remains a concern

Michael Punke
Michael Punke, U.S. ambassador to WTO
China remains “among the least transparent and predictable” of the world’s agriculture markets, a key U.S. trade official said last week in making remarks in Geneva at the tenth and final review of China’s transition to WTO membership.

“China remains among the least transparent and predictable of the world’s major markets for agricultural products,” said Michael Punke, U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization, “largely because of seemingly capricious customs and quarantine practices that delay or halt shipments and because sanitary and phytosanitary measures are sometimes imposed with what appear to be questionable scientific bases.”

“We remain highly concerned that China’s lack of required transparency complicates the WTO’s ability to resolve difficult issues – or even to have a meaningful conversation – for example in the area of agricultural subsidies,” he said.

In broader comments, Punke noted that the transition review mechanism was created largely because China was admitted to WTO membership before it had revised all of its trade-related laws and regulations to comply with its WTO obligations, and because China was allowed a variety of transition periods before it implemented certain of its WTO obligations.

He noted that since China joined the WTO, it has reduced tariffs, eliminated many non-tariff barriers that denied national treatment and market access for goods and services imported from other WTO members, and made legal improvements in intellectual property protections and in transparency.

He also noted that China “has become one of the major engines of economic growth in the world” and that trend “has provided numerous and substantial opportunities for U.S. businesses, workers, farmers and service suppliers and a wealth of affordable goods for U.S. consumers.”

But Punke also noted that many of these reductions in trade protectionism had occurred during the first five years of China’s membership in the WTO.

“China seems to be embracing state capitalism more strongly each year, rather than continuing to move toward the economic reform goals that originally drove its pursuit of WTO membership,” Punke said, adding, “This is a troubling development, and the United States urges the Chinese government to reconsider the path it is on.”