Trade negotiator Lee Sands' decision this week to resign from the US Trade Representative office has again thrown the spotlight on China's 10-year bid to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO). As the chief US negotiator for China's entry, he held what many regarded as the key to allowing the mainland in, and his sudden announcement emphasises the vulnerability of the talks. China's good progress at the last WTO multilateral working party meeting last month, was undoubtedly the result of a fresh batch of credible trade pledges by China. But the relatively large strides forward in the negotiations, are also laid at the door of Mr Sands who is said to have struck a warm relationship with his Chinese opposite number Long Yongtu. 'I don't think we would have got this far without him at the helm, especially as we had made so little progress in previous years,' said one negotiator based in Geneva, where the WTO has its headquarters. In theory, personalities do not outweigh the policies, and trade officials say no one is bigger than the talks themselves, but Mr Sands was well-known for his good relations with the Chinese delegation in Geneva, and this is thought to have done much to improve ties between the two countries. Before he took up the role last year, the main US negotiator for China was Dorothy Dwoskin, who was regarded as highly capable, but formidable and less than willing to be over-flexible towards China's entry. Trade analysts point out that history has not necessarily been on Ms Dwoskin's side, while it seemed to favour Mr Sands. Ms Dwoskin's tenure coincided with one of the lowest points of China's negotiations, when in December 1994 Beijing demanded it be allowed in as a founding member of the WTO despite its offer being widely regarded as inadequate. Mr Sands, however, has benefited from renewed political commitment from the US and Chinese leadership, and President Bill Clinton, who has made the political engagement of China a cornerstone of his foreign policy. 'These two facts alone prove that it's not just Mr Sands. Things should become progressively better in the China negotiations anyway,' said a Nordic country delegate. 'It is a more positive situation that we find ourselves in, and it should not matter who is in the negotiating room.' Analysts also point out that Mr Sands has run into confrontations with China. In 1994, the same month Ms Dwoskin was rejecting China's latest entry package into the WTO, Mr Sands walked out of talks in Beijing aimed at securing an intellectual property rights agreement. 'Mr Sands was a nice man, but his departure alone will not derail these talks,' said the head of an Asian country's delegation. 'There's been so much interest in him, and what it means now that he has left, that people have lost sight of the fact that as long as the Chinese are committed to meeting the conditions for entry, you can have whoever you like leading these talks, they won't be jeopardised.' Washington agrees with this argument. The US trade representative Charlene Barshefsky is said to have been told 12 months ago that Mr Sands and his deputy Deborah Lehr would be leaving. Her decision to keep both officials working on China's accession up until their resignations, has been interpreted as a measure of her trust in their ability to maintain the momentum, and her belief that any success was underpinned by US policy on China's entry. Mr Sands and Ms Lehr are to join a Chicago law firm where their former boss Mickey Kantor also works. Assistant US trade representative Robert Cassidy, who is responsible for Asia-Pacific affairs will replace Mr Sands. Officials expect him to make the same headway as Mr Sands.