The World Trade Organisation yesterday said for the first time that it hoped Beijing might become a member of the organisation by the end of next year. WTO director-general Renato Ruggiero said there was already strong support for China's entry, both from the mainland authorities, as well as China's trading partners, and that extra momentum in the long-running negotiations seemed to have been created. In Paris, at the ministerial meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Mr Ruggiero said a recent trip made to Beijing by the United States Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky appeared to have been particularly encouraging. 'My feeling is that there is a strong interest from China to sit at the table and a strong interest from the members of the WTO to have China as a member,' he said. 'I would hope that China would come into the WTO before the end of 1999, when we begin negotiations for further liberalisation.' A WTO spokesman said Mr Ruggiero's comments were based on his concern that the hurdles for mainland entry might become even harder when the WTO begins negotiating new areas of trade for liberalisation. The so-called built-in agenda that is scheduled to have negotiations begin early in 2000, envisages greater reduction of barriers in areas such as agriculture, services trade and some aspects of intellectual property rights. It is also likely that areas such as transparency in government procurement, competition and investment will also come under scrutiny with a view to greater liberalisation. 'It is important that China completes its accession before the end of 1999 and the beginning of 2000, because, when the new negotiations begin, the bar will be raised and the stakes will be even higher,' a WTO spokesman said. Mr Ruggiero's comments came as the US, which Beijing has long blamed for blocking its 11-year bid to enter the world trade group, is preparing for a visit by President Bill Clinton, a visit being widely flagged as an opportunity for a significant breakthrough to be made on China's entry. This month, mainland trade negotiators met in Geneva for the latest round of its WTO talks, presenting in detail a new offer on industrial products tariffs that envisaged a reduction in more than 5,000 tariffs to an average level of 10 per cent. This has been welcomed as a starting point, from which it is hoped the mainland's tariff rates will sink to between 4 and 8 per cent, but analysts yesterday said the standard for tariff reductions after next year could become even higher, which would potentially render Beijing's latest offer irrelevant.