WTO Membership Brings Trade, Disputes to China

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Sept. 30 – China has seen its global trade figures increase substantially since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, but while the emerging Asian nation’s imports and exports continue to grow, it is also becoming increasingly more involved in WTO disputes – both as a complainant and as a respondent.

In 2000, prior to joining the WTO, China’s total trade with the world totaled US$474.3 billion. By 2009, that number had climbed to an impressive US$2.21 trillion, even after experiencing a slight fall due to the Global Financial Crisis.

From 2001 to the end of 2005, China was involved in just three cases in WTO courts. By 2009, China was involved in 6 of the 14 total trade disputes filed that year. Nations are becoming increasingly willing to make China play by the rules, and China is proving that it is more than ready to fight back.

This year, eight cases have been brought against China. Most notably, the United States has challenged China on its preferential treatment of UnionPay and its restrictions on U.S. steel imports. In response, China then imposed a stiff 5-year tariff on U.S. poultry being imported into China on Monday, September 27. Also, although Beijing has let the national currency appreciate in recent months, mounting pressure from U.S. lawmakers also adds to the drama of WTO court scuffles.

Many of China’s trade partners still haven’t found a winning strategy in dealing with the East Asian nation’s communist government. Tread too lightly and Beijing may perceive you as weak and walk all over you, be too assertive in your claims and you may risk initiating a flurry of irrational countermeasures. China’s actions show that it will not be a pushover in the years to come.