China's 15-year marathon bid to join the World Trade Organisation looks set to end in success today. China's WTO accession now looks certain to be formally approved at the WTO's ministerial meeting in Qatar in November, and Beijing will gain formal admission early next year after the National People's Congress approves the package. Taiwan will follow the mainland into the WTO in a matter of hours, making the Greater China area another of the most dynamic economic powerhouses in the WTO. Foreign media and analysts have begun to talk about a China coming of age, but in the eyes of many Chinese, the WTO membership is the belated recognition of one of the world's largest trading powers. In the coming years, China will lower import tariffs and give foreign businesses unprecedented access to a vast market, becoming a central force in globalisation and a magnet for foreign investment. For China, WTO membership is also part of its greater ambition to double the size of its economy - which stood at US$1 trillion last year - over the next 10 years. In 1979, the mainland's then leader Deng Xiaoping directed the country on the path to a market economy without any precedents to follow - merely 'touching the stones to cross the river'. Now, Beijing will have to follow the agreed rules contained in the 800-page package of entry terms. Is China ready for the challenge? Premier Zhu Rongji, the main mover behind China's WTO accession, voiced his confidence during a trip to Europe early this month, saying China still had several years of manoeuvring before the full-front foreign competition comes in. China has promised to open up lucrative industries such as banking, insurance and telecommunications in the next three to five years. Already, the leadership is undertaking the necessary economic changes to prepare for membership. On top of Mr Zhu's agenda is the continuation of the dismantling of state monopolies over highly regulated industries. A bigger challenge for Mr Zhu and the new leadership will be how to cope with rising unemployment as millions of people are likely to be thrown out of work following the restructuring. Another major challenge will be the restructuring of the mainland's inefficient but vast agricultural sector, which has a farming population of at least 800 million. Foreseeing more farmers will be leaving their fields and seeking jobs in the cities, Beijing has started to relax its decade-old urban household registration system. However, analysts have warned that time is running out and Beijing will need to accelerate its preparations before it is too late.