China's World Trade Organisation accession today will deliver immediate changes in financial services and tariff reductions, as well as kick-starting the gradual process of opening up the enormous mainland economy. 'There will be lots of changes in the financial sector,' said Salomon Smith Barney Greater China economist Yiping Huang. 'The first thing to happen in the banking sector is that foreign banks will be able to deal with foreign currency business in four major cities [at first], then a year later in four more cities and so on until in the fifth year there are no restrictions at all.' However, many of the detailed regulations governing the WTO agreements are yet to be fleshed out, with the foreign exchange services regulations announced only on Sunday. However, Stephen Harder, partner at law firm Clifford Chance, said most foreign banks were assuming the lifting of restrictions 'will be implemented much more rapidly than the WTO requires'. The restriction on yuan lending by foreign banks to 100 per cent owned Chinese companies, for example, could be lifted earlier than the two-year deadline imposed on China by the WTO, he said. Morgan Stanley chief economist Andy Xie Guozhong said a 'flurry of deals' would close today in the banking and telecoms industries. From today, foreign operators will be able to take up a 25 per cent stake in domestic cellular carriers. Yesterday, an 11th-hour settlement was reportedly reached in the dispute over access to China's lucrative insurance market by American International Group (AIG). The agreement - believed to have been negotiated by Premier Zhu Rongji and AIG chief executive Maurice Greenberg - would allow AIG to establish, operate and own insurance operations in Beijing, Suzhou, Dongguan and Jiangmen. In return, the insurance giant will have to operate future businesses as 50-50 joint ventures with a Chinese partner. AIG had previously argued it should be allowed full ownership of future and existing ventures. However, the issue was one of the final sticking points in China's 15-year fight for WTO accession. The European Union had objected to the United States push for the continuation of AIG's 100 per cent ownership privileges. Shanghai-based Clifford Chance senior associate Luo Hai said the opening up of China's insurance market to foreign investors would move from an 'experimental to a formal basis' today. While some foreign insurance firms have been allowed equity holdings in joint ventures in the life-assurance market above the 50 per cent threshold since 1996, all foreign companies will now be allowed 50 per cent life-insurance joint venture holdings.