China was due today [Monday] to be granted membership of the World Trade Organisation, following 15 years of often intense negotiations, although its cereal industry is to retain a significant level of tariff protection.

After implementing all the promises it has made in the bilateral deals which paved the way for WTO membership; these include a pledge from China that it will not maintain or introduce any export subsidies on food products.

Its average bound tariff level for agricultural products will decrease to 15%. The range is from 0% to 65%, with the higher rates applied to cereals. Most tariffs that are to be reduced or eliminated will be cut by 2004, but in no case later than 2010.

As soon as Chinese membership is formally in place – which under a set timetable, should happen next March – under WTO rules, if China raises its customs dues, it will henceforth be open to disputes procedure challenges at the WTO.

The formal decision to set this official procedure in motion was to be taken today by the WTO’s China accession working party.

Its admission to the WTO had long been delayed by a disagreement with the USA over the size of food subsidies that it was allowed to pay to Chinese producers. Finally, Beijing agreed to limit these payments to 8.5% of their value, (under Article 6.4 of the WTO Agriculture Agreement), a figure lower than that permitted for most developing countries.

By Keith Nuthall, correspondent