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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Says China Near to WTO Entry

BEIJING -- The European Union said Friday the end was in sight to its marathon negotiations on China's entry into the World Trade Organization.

"We are in the home stretch. The finishing line is in sight. Let's hope we don't trip over it," EU spokesman Anthony Gooch told reporters.

He said negotiations were still going on, however, despite China's Foreign Trade Ministry raising hopes of an imminent agreement that would overcome the last big hurdle to China's 14-year quest to join the body which sets global trade rules.

Gooch spoke 45 minutes after the ministry scheduled a photo opportunity and promised "important news."

His comment, after days of emphasis on how much work remained to be done, followed a lunchtime meeting between EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy and reformist Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji.

Lamy went back into talks with Foreign Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng in the afternoon of the fifth day of the fourth round of talks between the two sides this year on accession to the WTO.

Chinese membership will open its potentially vast market of 1.3 billion people much wider.

Lamy's meeting with Zhu followed a "restricted" meeting Friday morning with Shi to which Lamy took only "one or two close advisers," Gooch said.

Zhu, well known to be keen on WTO membership to bring competitive pressure on ailing state industries and a master of every detail of negotiations, made critical interventions during ultimately successful WTO talks with the United States last November. But he also met Lamy during the last round of talks in March and the EU trade chief returned to Brussels without an agreement.

The latest round of talks, which began Monday, has focused on the details of a deal that would take China to the brink of WTO membership.

Neither side would reveal where the difficulties lay, but one source close to the talks said Thursday disputes remained on mobile telecommunications services, automobile joint ventures, life insurance, distribution and retail services and on China's state trading monopolies.

Progress in the talks has appeared painstakingly slow with Lamy determined to take home a better deal than the one Washington agreed with China in November and Beijing equally determined to go no further than it did with the United States.