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US tells WTO China backslides on trade openness

GENEVA -- China is backsliding on the path of trade openness and economic reform that marked its entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, the United States said on Tuesday during a biennial review of China's trade policies.

In tough remarks that were backed up by criticisms voiced by the European Union, U.S. Ambassador Michael Punke said that since China's last review in 2010, the trend toward state intervention in China's economy appeared to have intensified.

“China's tighter embrace of state capitalism now runs directly counter to the economic reform goals that originally drove its pursuit of WTO membership, goals that had offered real leadership and real promise for China's future economic growth,” he said, according to a transcript supplied by the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. On intellectual property rights, Punke said China had taken uneven and inadequate action, which had barely improved its “unacceptably high infringement rates.”

He cited a litmus test of China's enforcement: “Whether the legitimate goods and services purchased in large volumes around the globe can also achieve reasonable levels of sales in China.”

The two-day review process, which every one of the WTO's 155 members must undergo periodically, comes amid a volley of trade litigation between the two economic superpowers.

In recent weeks the United States has slapped punitive duties on a range of Chinese goods that it says are unfairly priced or subsidized, prompting China to hit back with the first stage of trade dispute at the WTO.

In the coming weeks, the WTO is due to rule on several older disputes between the two, including a high-stakes case aimed at prying open China's huge electronic payments market for U.S. firms like Visa, MasterCard and American Express.

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