Beijing puts end to talks on WTO

CHINA will not arrange any more talks about its admission to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), a top Chinese trade official says.

Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation (MOFTEC) Vice-Minister Gu Yongjiang said China promised to maintain friendly relations with the group's member nations.

But he warned WTO members against overestimating China's economic power, emphasising it was still a developing nation.

'Our obligations and responsibilities can only be those of a developing country,' he said.

'We have no problem with that, but some countries continue to raise inappropriate demands that we cannot possibly meet.' Speaking at a China investment policy symposium in Hong Kong yesterday, Mr Gu said China would pursue economic reforms according to its own time schedule, whether or not the WTO agreed to its entry.

'We are not going to make any effort to set up more meetings, but if others do so, we'll be pleased to attend,' he said.

'Whatever happens, we plan to maintain close trade ties with countries in the WTO.' He said China would limit, or at the very least not encourage, foreign investment in industries which already met demand - or manufactured solely for the domestic market.

Senior State Planning Commission official He Jun said investment in cotton yarn, copying machines, washing machines, refrigerators and radio production plants would be discouraged.

Priority would be given to foreign investment in basic areas such as agriculture and infrastructure projects, plus industries which are primarily export-oriented.

Both Mr Gu and Ma Xiuhong, deputy director of MOFTEC's foreign investment administration department, said the next step in China's economic development was to shift the focus of foreign investment from the coast to the interior.

China was drafting a set of policies to encourage foreigners to invest in the central and western provinces, which probably would include relaxing restrictions on loans. Interior provinces are poorer and less developed than coastal areas.

More than 240 officials from 16 provinces and cities, many from the interior, have accompanied Mr Gu to Hong Kong for a four-day fair at the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre aimed at attracting foreign investment.