"The tale of a Trojan horse or the quest for market access? China and the World Trade Organization", an interview with Sven Van Kerckhoven

1. The Chinese accession in the international scenario has become an important issue which might be discussed by policy makers, academic researchers, think-tanks and students. In this sense, the entrance of China in the WTO occupies a central point in the analysis of this country’s behavior in the International Political Economy field. In your opinion, what are the most important consequences of China’s accession in the WTO? What were the real gains of China after becoming a member of this organization?

China benefits from its WTO membership since this allows the country to benefit from the increased access to other WTO members’ economies. However, when it joined, China reciprocally also had to present other WTO members with a better access to its economy. The result is that there are both domestic losers and winners in China. In the vein of traditional economics, the overall net result should be positive as countries gain by more trade liberalization. In the long run, the dynamic gains from intensified competition, rewarding innovative and efficient firms, will spur Chinese economic growth.

Another major benefit for China is the fact that it can now challenge other WTO members’ trade policies through the WTO DSU. Before Chinese products often faced certain barriers when entering another market. These barriers can now be called into question. This has allowed for some further growth in industries like the textile sector. By becoming a WTO member, China can now also enjoy the benefits of the more stable trade regime that results when countries share a common rulebook.

In short, joining the WTO could help China to continue achieving remarkable growth numbers, and will also push the Chinese government to speed up economic reforms internally. For example, lowering the high number of state owned enterprises is one of the matters that will be need to be tackled. External pressure from the WTO and its members will help to speed up this process.

2. President Hu Jintao sustained the discourse of “Harmonious World” during his administration (2002-2012). The main claim of this argument is that the Chinese accession, especially in the economical field, was not a treat to the established world order. Actually, President Hu argued that China wanted to get in the established world order without changing deeply it. Do you believe that Chinese actions inside the WTO reflected this “peaceful” aim of a “harmonious” insertion?  Is the small number of complaints made by China in the WTO DSU related with this discourse?

So far, this indeed seems to be the case. China has been very cooperative with regard to WTO matters. The small number of complaints in the first few years strengthens this argument. However, in recent years, China has become more active and is increasingly using the WTO DSU. This should not change the perception of China as an harmonious entrant, as this evolution is only logical for a country of the economic size of China. The Chinese use of the DSU has to be interpreted as a signal that China endorses the current trade system, that it fully takes up its role, and that it doesn’t challenge the system by taking unilateral measures.

3. In your article, you present the number of cases in which China is either the complainant or the defendant in the WTO DSU. You explains that China has been involved in a small number of disputes despite the fact the country is a WTO’s member since 2011. However, China has participated in 110 cases as a third party in the WTO DSU. Could you write about why China has participated in so many cases as a third party? What are the importance and the consequences for China of this kind of engagement in the WTO DSU?

Actually, it clear that China took a slow start at the WTO. Very few disputes were initiated over the first few years after its accession. However, in more recent years, China has become one of the most active WTO litigants. The high number of cases in which China has participated as a third party at the WTO has certainly helped the country to move quickly along its learning curve. By participating as a third country, China has been able to gather a lot of experience on how to deal with WTO litigation. Being an active third party has also allowed China to get a better insight in how other countries deal with the WTO DSU, and which foreign trade barriers are to a larger extent litigated.

4. Is it important that an alternate view on China – other than northern countries’ – is being published in southern countries like Brazil? Why?

Sure, more diverse views will only increase help people to get a better grasp of the full picture. This is even more true for research focusing on China. In the West, China is still to a certain extent perceived as a threat. Another viewpoint might provide people with a more nuanced perception of the Chinese actions. Brazil and China, albeit completely different countries, face a certain number of similar challenges, so more alternative views on China might also help Brazilians to better understand the challenges they are facing.

Read the article: 

KERCKHOVEN, Sven Van; LUYTEN, Adriaan. The tale of a Trojan horse or the quest for market access? China and the World Trade Organization. Rev. bras. polít. int.,  Brasília ,  v. 57, n. spe,   2014 .   Available from <http://www.scielo.br/article_plus.php?pid=S0034-73292014000300193&tlng=en&lng=en>. access on  18  Oct.  2014.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0034-7329201400212.

Sven Van Kerckhoven is a PhD Candidate at the Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Leuven (KUL).

Adriaan Luyten is a doctoral candidate at the faculty of business and economics of the university of Leuven (KU Leuven).

Laís Bueno Sachs is a member of the Tutorial Education Program in International Relations – PET/REL and a member of the Laboratory of analysis in International Relations – LARI (laisbuenosachs@gmail.com )

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