Cadres in central and western China have petitioned Beijing on damages to local economies if accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is attained on terms that Premier Zhu Rongji has negotiated with the United States. Two weeks after the economic tsar returned from North America, there are signs that anger - over what his critics call the giveaway of the century - has spread to a broad array of power blocs and regions. Until the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) unilaterally announced Beijing's concessions after Mr Zhu's summit with President Bill Clinton on April 8, anti-WTO sentiments were mostly felt among government bureaucrats and heads of units such as banks and state-owned enterprises (SOEs), whose business would be hurt by an influx of foreign funds and goods. Early naysayers on the WTO issue have included the Minister of Information Industry Wu Jichuan and the east China-based managers of companies in fields such as cars, computers and mobile phones. State Council sources, however, said opponents to Mr Zhu's rushi - 'entry to the world', a shorthand for WTO accession - bid had increased dramatically in inland provinces, as well as among representatives of farmers and workers. Leaders of the heartland have claimed that as foreign money and merchandises inundate the coast, well-established companies there will try to make up for the losses by moving to central and western provinces, thus squeezing out enterprises in the impoverished areas. 'Cadres in inland areas have warned Beijing that after WTO accession, the disparity between eastern and western China will worsen,' a State Council source said. The source said anti-WTO feelings had grown after details of the USTR document were carried late last month by Reference News, a news source for cadres. And despite the fact that Mr Zhu has denied that he has acceded to all the terms publicised by Washington - and that WTO talks are still going on - most mainland officials and intellectuals think Beijing has succumbed to US pressure. Cadres representing farming interests have expressed strong reservations about the agriculture accord with Washington, which will mean hefty imports of American wheat, fruit, meat and poultry. They have cited the conclusions of an unpublicised seminar recently held by economists at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The experts said since many kinds of US produce, including wheat and maize, were not only more nutritious but cheaper than home-grown ones, mainland farms would be dealt a big blow. Cadres in fruit-producing provinces are particularly distressed because there is already a glut in supply. They are not swayed by reassurances from the Ministry of Agriculture that the government would help orchards export more to Southeast Asia to offset the effect of Californian oranges. WTO-related unease has percolated to workers. This is despite the fact that the mood among labour is hard to gauge given the ban on non-official trade unions. Sources close to the industrial departments said more layoffs of workers were expected as Mr Zhu went about plans to sell or close down loss-making SOEs - and to merge the efficient ones. The sources said the Premier believed that after WTO accession, only 'world-class conglomerates' would have the wherewithal to do battle with multinationals, and a series of mergers in fields ranging from cars to VCDs was in the works. And mergers and acquisitions would inevitably boost the ranks of the jobless, estimated to be more than 20 million in the cities alone. Even worse for the rushi faction, led by Mr Zhu and State Councillor Wu Yi, cyber versions of anti-WTO big-character posters have appeared on the Internet. One widely noted Net slogan compared the existing terms for WTO entry to concessions that the imperialist powers imposed on the Qing dynasty and republican governments in the first decades of the century. Not surprisingly, long-standing rushi opponents have exploited the spread of negative vibes among ordinary mainlanders to further embarrass the Premier. Beijing has been abuzz with stories of impending resignations of anti-WTO ministers. And leftists, led by 'underground general secretary' Deng Liqun, have reportedly labelled the economic tsar a 'traitor'. Mr Zhu felt particularly beleaguered because he had been receiving less than full support from colleagues in the supreme Politburo Standing Committee. President Jiang Zemin has given theoretical approval to the broad outlines of the strategy the Premier has adopted with the USTR. However, Mr Jiang has failed to defend his Premier against specific charges that his concessions have hurt a broad spectrum of interest groups. WTO bashers have sought support from two Politburo members who have sponsored a go-slow approach to rushi before Mr Zhu's ascendancy: National People's Congress chairman Li Peng and Vice-Premier Li Lanqing. It is believed Mr Zhu may be forced to adopt damage-control mechanisms in the run-up to the next round of talks with the US scheduled for mid-May. The Premier's goal is still to win American backing while reassuring his countrymen that the downside to WTO entry can be minimised. First, mainland negotiators may take back or tone down a number of concessions to which agreements have been cemented or nearly reached. Examples include the partial opening up of the securities market and permission for foreign companies to hold controlling stakes in joint ventures in sensitive areas such as telecommunications. Moreover, Beijing will stand firm over so-called discriminatory protocols such as quotas imposed on textiles exports even after WTO accession. Second, the Zhu team may privately reassure sectors that will be pummelled by a WTO deal that enough hurdles will be set up to effectively curtail the benefits that foreign companies will derive from better market access. For example, even though tariffs for foreign cars will be lowered, administrative measures can be taken to limit their appeal for consumers. The latter include higher registration and licence fees as well as higher costs for parts and for repair.