Trade diplomats in Geneva began a final 48-hour-long push to clear the last hurdles to China's entry into the World Trade Organisation. WTO members are expected tomorrow to approve the complex legal protocols setting out China's rights and obligations as a member of the trade body. This will bring to a close China's 15-year campaign to join the WTO and be formally recognised as a member of the international trading system. A meeting in Geneva on Friday is expected to approve the terms and conditions for Taiwan's membership as well, making the WTO one of the few inter-governmental organisations in which both the mainland and Taiwan are represented. The last sessions for China to join the WTO began in a tense atmosphere yesterday, with top officials of China and the United States in a closed-door meeting trying to push through the last hurdle of accession. China's chief trade negotiator Long Yongtu met with his US counterpart 30 minutes before the multilateral meeting started yesterday morning. He came out saying 'I have to see the chairman' but refused to comment on any disagreement over the future right of US insurance firm American International Group to own 100 per cent of any new operations in the mainland after China joins the WTO. A dispute between the US and European Union regarding the branching rights for foreign insurers in China has become the remaining obstacle in the way of completing Beijing's quest. Both sides have been trying to come to an agreement since July. Despite these last-minute hitches, diplomats were optimistic that deals would be struck in time for tomorrow's meeting. 'There is a political tidal wave in favour of China joining, and I'm sure any difficulties and ambiguities will be swept away,' said one trade official. WTO director-general Mike Moore said they were 'very, very close to an historic moment'. He added that China and Taiwan's accession to the WTO would 'bring greater stability and certainty to the global economy at a time when . . . sorely needed'. He urged WTO members to 'make every effort to bring resolution to these two accession bids'. Meanwhile, Minister of Finance Xiang Huaicheng, speaking at the opening ceremony for the China-US Joint Economic Committee in Beijing, said China was on the brink of clearing the last obstacles. 'I want to tell you all that the legal procedures for China to enter the WTO might be wholly completed today,' he said. At a press conference in Beijing, US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said he was optimistic of a positive resolution to the talks. 'I am very hopeful and expect that there will be a resolution, probably in the near future and that China will succeed with WTO and that will happen very fast,' Mr O'Neill said. China's entry would, Mr O'Neill said, be a 'very important step' towards the complete elimination of trade tariffs. 'The more world leaders can move towards the complete elimination of trade tariffs, the more we have the possibility of improving living standards . . . and eliminating poverty,' he said. 'I see China's WTO accession as a step towards that happy time where the world trades freely among countries so that the people every place in the world have a standard of living which we can be proud of,' Mr O'Neill said. In addition to well-publicised differences with the US and the European Union on insurance, China still has unresolved differences with Mexico. Mexico has said it would not allow these differences to hold up China's WTO membership. If China's accession is approved tomorrow it would still take at least until the end of the year to clear various other formalities. Ministers from the WTO will have to formally approve China's membership at a meeting in Qatar in November, after which the National People's Congress in Beijing will have to ratify the agreement.