Working paper

China and the world trade organisation: towards a better fit

China’s participation in the WTO has been anything but smooth, as its self-proclaimed socialist market economy system has alienated its trading partne

Publishing date
12 June 2019

China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2001 was hailed as the natural conclusion of a long march that started with the reforms of Deng Xiaoping in the 1970s. However, China’s participation in the WTO has been anything but smooth. Its self-proclaimed socialist market economy system has alienated its trading partners. Two diametrically opposite approaches have been proposed to deal with the emerging problems. One is to demand that China changes its economic regime. The other is to stay idle and accept that the WTO must accommodate different economic regimes, no matter how idiosyncratic. In this paper, we argue that there is a more promising third way. In our view, the problems posed by China arise from the fact that, while in the past the GATT/WTO had to address the accession of socialist countries or of big trading nations, it never had to deal with a big, socialist country like China. In order to retain its principles while accommodating China, the WTO needs to translate some of its implicit legal understanding into explicit treaty language. We advance specific proposals to this effect.

About the authors

  • André Sapir

    André Sapir, a Belgian citizen, is Senior Fellow at Bruegel. He is also University Professor at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and Research Fellow of the London-based Centre for Economic Policy Research.

    Between 1990 and 2004, he worked for the European Commission, first as Economic Advisor to the Director-General for Economic and Financial Affairs, and then as Principal Economic Advisor to President Prodi, also heading his Economic Advisory Group. In 2004, he published 'An Agenda for a Growing Europe', a report to the president of the Commission by a group of independent experts that is known as the Sapir report. After leaving the Commission, he first served as External Member of President Barroso’s Economic Advisory Group and then as Member of the General Board (and Chair of the Advisory Scientific Committee) of the European Systemic Risk Board based at the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

    André has written extensively on European integration, international trade, and globalisation. He holds a PhD in economics from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he worked under the supervision of Béla Balassa. He was elected Member of the Academia Europaea and of the Royal Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts.

  • Petros Mavroidis

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