【英语中国】中国释放从WTO转向诸边贸易谈判信号

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2013-12-8 09:04

小艾摘要: When Gao Hucheng, China’s commerce minister, stepped up to the podium at the World Trade Organisation meeting in Bali this week for his opening address it was full of diplomatic language hailing mult ...
When Gao Hucheng, China’s commerce minister, stepped up to the podium at the World Trade Organisation meeting in Bali this week for his opening address it was full of diplomatic language hailing multilateralism and the central role of the WTO.

But buried in his speech was one seemingly-benign line that startled some of the assembled ministers and senior trade officials. “We’re also open-minded towards other multilateral – and plurilateral – negotiations,” Mr Gao said.

In those jargony words lay official confirmation of an important shift in China’s trade policy. After years of defending the multilateral WTO against the perceived threat of plurilateral deals negotiated by some members, China was considering shifting sides.

In so doing, it would be following the path of the US, EU and others who, frustrated at the slow pace of progress in the WTO, have cut out Geneva and begun launching talks outside its umbrella.

Beijing’s change of heart manifested itself quietly this week as the world focused on the hard-nosed negotiations by India that have threatened to block the first global trade deal in the WTO’s 18-year history – one that it is desperate to seal to rebut its critics.

Ever since China joined the WTO in 2001 it has seen the Geneva-based body as a path for trade negotiations beyond the bilateral deals it has signed with other countries. But now China is not only starting to hedge its bets but even offering pointed criticism of the WTO.

“We are seeing a big shift,” says Tu Xinquan, a trade policy expert at the China Institute for WTO Studies at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics.

One reason is that China’s leadership is frustrated with the WTO’s record at delivering results, Mr Tu says. In his speech, Mr Gao cited the “low efficiency of its decision-making system”.

In spite of the magnitude of its shift, Beijing has been content to leave the stage to India. While Anand Sharma, India’s commerce minister, was threatening to sink the negotiations the lone Chinese public event was an announcement on the first day of the meeting by Mr Gao that China was increasing its support for the “Cotton Four” African countries – Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mali.

The sole drama involving China may have been when a journalist asked Mr Gao, who speaks fluent French and has a doctorate from a Paris university, whether there were any strings attached to the aid. “Is this just philanthropy?” he asked. Mr Gao greeted the question with silence.

The result of China’s emerging ennuis with the WTO is that it is exploring other avenues more aggressively. It has applied to join negotiations led by the EU and US to update the rules governing the $4tn annual trade in services.

When those talks were launched two years ago the then-Chinese ambassador to the WTO is said to have stormed into then-director general Pascal Lamy’s office to demand to know how they could proceed outside the WTO.

Diplomats say Beijing is also inquiring about the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership talks now underway. And some analysts believe it could eventually join the TPP, often described as the US’s economic pivot to Asia and even an attempt to contain China economically.

“We are trying everything we can,” Mr Tu says. “Plurilateral, bilateral, the WTO. As long as it works!”

The reason, he said, was Beijing’s desire to speed up reforms and its view that opening the economy further could help it achieve that aim. But there are still barriers in China’s way.

European and US officials are sceptical of China’s bid to join the Trade in Services Agreement discussions now taking place between more than 50 countries representing some 70 per cent of the global trade in services. They point to the collapse of talks over IT products, blamed on China, as a cautionary example.

Any move to join the TPP would also be years away. The tensions with Japan, a TPP member, over the no-fly zone China has imposed over disputed islands in the East China Sea do not help, officials say.

中国商务部部长高虎城在本周世界贸易组织(WTO)巴厘岛会议上致词时,他的讲话中充满了称赞多边主义和WTO核心作用的外交辞令。

然而,他的发言中有一句话虽然表面上看似饱含善意,却震惊了在座的一些部长和高级贸易官员。高虎城表示,中国“对于其他多边、诸边谈判,也持开放态度”。

这套外交辞令正式确认了中国贸易政策已出现重大转变。多年来,中国一直在维护奉行多边主义的WTO规则,抵抗部分成员国的诸边谈判对WTO造成的威胁。如今看来,中国正在考虑转变立场。

中国如果这么做,将走上与美国、欧盟(EU)及其他地区一样的道路,由于对WTO进展缓慢感到失望,这些地区对日内瓦已有放弃之意,开始抛开WTO自行启动谈判。

就在中国本周低调地表明自己立场转变之际,世界正在关注印度在国际谈判中的强硬态度。印度这种态度可能妨碍WTO达成其成立18年来的第一项全球贸易协定,WTO迫切希望通过签订这一全球协定反驳对该组织的批评。

自2001年加入WTO以来,中国一直将WTO视为一条贸易谈判途径,并将其置于自己与其他国家签订的双边协定之上。然而如今中国不仅开始两边下注,甚至还对WTO提出尖锐批评。

对外经济贸易大学中国世界贸易组织研究院的贸易政策专家屠新泉表示,我们看到中方立场有了很大的转变。

屠新泉表示,一个原因是中国领导人对WTO迄今取得的成果感到失望。高虎城在讲话中也提到“世贸组织决策机制效率低下”。

尽管立场发生了巨大转变,中国政府仍乐意把舞台让给印度。在印度商业部长阿南德?沙玛(Anand Sharma)威胁要破坏世贸谈判的同时,中方在会议第一天唯一的公开活动是由高虎城宣布,中国将加大对非洲“棉花四国”——贝宁、布基纳法索、乍得及马里——的支持力度。

唯一与中国有关的戏剧性场面,可能就是高虎城的答记者问,在一位记者问到中国的援助是否有附带条件时说:“这是否单纯的慈善活动?”但对于这个问题,会讲流利法语并且拥有巴黎某大学博士学位的高虎城没有作答。

由于对WTO逐渐产生厌倦情绪,中国现在更加积极探索其他途径。中国已申请加入由欧盟和美国牵头的服务贸易谈判,这项谈判旨在更新与每年4万亿美元服务贸易相关的规则。

据称,两年前当该谈判启动时,时任中国驻WTO大使曾冲进当时的WTO总干事帕斯卡?拉米(Pascal Lamy)的办公室,想要了解这类谈判如何能在WTO框架外进行。

外交官们表示,中方还在探听12国正在开展的“泛太平洋伙伴关系”(Trans-Pacific Partnership,简称TPP)谈判。部分分析人士认为,中国最终可能加入TPP,尽管TPP被称为是美国意图把经济重心转向亚洲、甚至是在经济上遏制中国的手段。

屠新泉表示:“我们在尝试所有可能的手段。诸边主义、双边主义、WTO,只要能够奏效就行!”

他表示,原因在于中国政府希望加快改革,并且认为进一步开放经济有助于实现这一目标。然而,中国前进的道路上仍存在许多障碍。

对于中国要求加入服务贸易协定谈判,欧美官员怀有疑虑,他们指出,IT产品方面的谈判失败就应归咎于中国,这是一个前车之鉴。服务贸易协定谈判有50多个国家参与,覆盖全球约70%的服务贸易额。

中国即使能加入TPP也得几年后。有官员表示,中国在东中国海争议岛屿上空设立“防空识别区”,为此与TPP的成员国日本关系紧张,这无助于中国加入TPP。

译者/何黎

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