Agreement has at last been reached to formally re-start Beijing's stalled World Trade Organisation negotiations with the European Union. The move came during yesterday's first meeting between mainland Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng and the EU's recently-confirmed trade commissioner Pascal Lamy in Berlin, signalling a significant thaw in Sino-European relations. Beijing has been refusing to discuss its WTO entry with the EU since May, following the Nato bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo conflict. Yesterday's talks are now set to trigger an intense round of discussions. 'There is going to be a lot of going back and forth,' said EU trade spokesman Anthony Gooch. No official date has yet been set between the two sides for the beginning of substantive negotiations but Mr Gooch said an official meeting would take place before the end of the month. In what appears to signal a strong desire by the EU to increase the tempo of the talks, it has decided to upgrade the level of the WTO discussions by appointing its director-general for trade, Johannes Friederich Beseler, as chief negotiator on the mainland's entry. He replaces former deputy director-general Gerard Depayre. The mainland's deputy foreign trade minister Long Yongtu, who accompanied Mr Shi to Berlin, was re-confirmed as Beijing's chief trade negotiator. Beijing appeared to maintain a hard line in yesterday's first meeting. 'The Chinese position seems quite tough, we are not expecting a great deal of progress,' one source said. The mainland is insistent that it be accepted into the WTO on terms that class it as a developing country, which will give it a much longer time period in which to liberalise its markets. The EU, meanwhile, is keen to take a case-by-case approach that will open up some areas of the mainland's economy faster than others. It is still technically possible for the mainland to enter the WTO before the so-called millennium round of global trade liberalisation starts next year, but it is widely accepted that there needs to be a strong political commitment, in Beijing and Brussels, as well as Washington. Mr Gooch said the discussions between Mr Lamy and Mr Shi were upbeat. 'We should consider this as the political start of the negotiation,' he said. 'From the moment we heard that China wanted to start talks we welcomed it. 'We have been waiting for this for some time, and like many, we are happy to have them back at the table.' It was also noted that the first set of talks could take place as President Jiang Zemin makes his first state visit to Britain, before going on to France and Portugal. It is thought the WTO issue will be one of the key areas of discussion on his European tour. However officials are still cautious over the prospect of an agreement before the start of the millennium round. Mr Shi and Mr Lamy held only very broad discussions yesterday, Mr Gooch said.