[Editor’s Note]

On December 11, 2001, China joined the World Trade Organization. This day has become an important watershed in the development of relations between China and the world. In the past 20 years, China has fully fulfilled its commitments, continued to advance its reform and opening up, its overall national strength has increased significantly, its international status and influence have continued to rise, and the living standards of urban and rural residents have improved significantly. At the same time, foreign trade frictions continue to occur, and the current epidemic has also had a profound impact on the global industrial chain and supply chain. How to see the development and changes in the past 20 years after China’s accession to the WTO? How long can the dividends of WTO accession last? How to proceed with opening up in the next step?

On the 20th anniversary of China’s accession to the WTO, the news and a number of witnesses, experts and scholars discussed in depth the past, present and future of China and the WTO, hoping to provide China with A multi-dimensional perspective on the relationship with WTO, China and the world.

“Today is a right day, with a drop of water, but I am fortunate to blend into the torrent that is advancing downstream.”

On December 11, Wang Lei, senior partner of Gaopeng Law Firm, left this sentence in the circle of friends to commemorate the 20th anniversary of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (hereinafter referred to as “WTO”).

Wang Lei has been deeply involved since the beginning of China’s formal application for restoring the status of a State party to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (hereinafter referred to as “GATT”) (hereinafter referred to as “Return of Customs”) in 1986 Resumption negotiations.

As the “Whampoa Phase I” of China’s resumption of customs, Wang Lei used to serve as the Deputy Director of the WTO Division of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation and assisted successive negotiators in rehabilitating customs and joining the WTO During the negotiation, he also worked in the Chinese Mission in Geneva for 6 years. As the main assistant of the mission ambassador, he participated in the negotiations with the United States and Europe, drafted China’s WTO accession protocol and other legal documents, and participated in the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade. negotiation.

In 1996, Wang Lei resigned from the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation and worked as a practicing lawyer in Brussels, Belgium for 6 years, during which time he represented a large number of Chinese companies in responding to EU anti-dumping cases. . After China joined the WTO, he returned to practice in 2002. In addition to participating in the settlement of China’s trade disputes in the WTO field, Wang Lei has also been engaged in representing Chinese companies in anti-dumping and countervailing cases initiated abroad, as well as multinational companies’ trade legal affairs in China. Wang Lei, Senior Partner of Gaopeng Law Firm Photo courtesy of interviewee

Wang Lei, Senior Partner of Gaopeng Law Firm Photo courtesy of the interviewee

The following is the interview transcript:

News: How did you become connected with GATT and WTO?

Wang Lei: Here I have to talk about an old gentleman who has a profound influence on me and the entire cause of international law in China.

In 1980, I entered the economic law major of the Faculty of Law of Peking University and became the first economic law student in the country. The founder of this major is Mr. Rui Mu, a master of law, who is the founder of the disciplines of Chinese Economic Law and International Economic Law. My husband was born in 1908. My husband was over 70 when I enrolled, and he insisted on teaching undergraduates. Until the age of 92, the husband still insisted on taking doctoral students. He enjoys a lofty status in the legal circles of China and the world. He is also a generation of outstanding legal educators and has cultivated a large number of outstanding international law talents.

In 1985, there was already some information in China that mentioned that China was preparing to rehabilitate customs. I wrote the research on the GATT dispute settlement mechanism and other content into a master’s thesis. At that time, my husband was responsible for I direct the thesis.

After graduation, I went to the Ministry of Foreign Trade and directly engaged in GATT related work. Since then, the correspondence between me and my husband has not been interrupted. I have worked in Geneva for 6 years, and my husband wrote letters to the Chinese Mission in Geneva by international mail. The husband said that he should find some information about GATT. Although China was not a GATT member at the time, it was only an observer, but I still had some convenience to obtain some GATT documents, etc., and I tried to copy them.

But I can’t afford the international postage for photocopies, so I entrusted the comrades who came to the meeting to take them home. For many years, I have been in correspondence with my husband, and my husband also shared his research and thinking with me. Thanks to the job opportunity in Geneva, it has the advantage of being close to the water platform than the domestic legal person, and it is easier to understand the rules of the game like GATT, So I wrote my research as an English paper and published it abroad, and also sent the article to my husband for guidance.

After I returned to China in 1994, my husband asked me to come to Peking University to teach graduate students about GATT and WTO rules. At that time, it was a critical period for China’s resumption of customs negotiations. I could only go to Peking University to teach for a year in my spare time on weekends. The husband told me: “Our department has no funds for you, so we can only reimburse you for a “face-to-face” bus fare.”

There are about 20 classes in this class. There are many students, including Chinese and Korean students. Because most of them are graduate students, I don’t have much indoctrination content. Instead, I assign students to read relevant literature and cases, and then assign each person to choose a topic. First, prepare the essay outline, and then the students will explain in the classroom, and everyone will comment. Finally, I Make a review.

These students are all disciples trained by Mr., and many of them have become the mainstay of China’s WTO legal team.

News: While you were working in Geneva, it was also the stage of negotiations for China’s resumption of customs. During your participation in the negotiations, did you have any stories that impressed you?

Wang Lei: Regarding China’s application for “restoration” of the status of a contracting party, the way that countries reach an agreement is to play word games to solve this problem.

China is one of the founding countries of the United Nations established after World War II. At the same time as the establishment of the United Nations, major powers brewed and negotiated between 1945 and 1947 and established GATT in 1948. Later, due to changes in China’s domestic political situation, it was not until the 1980s, more than 30 years later, that the Chinese government proposed to restore GATT seats, but this was unprecedented in the history of the General Agreement.

China, GATT parties and the GATT Secretariat have conducted intensive discussions on the way and procedures for China to enter GATT.

Some members believe that China is rejoining and should act in accordance with the procedures for joining GATT. China firmly opposes this, because legally it breaks the continuity of the subject of China’s international law, and politically it is inconsistent with the resolution of the UN General Assembly. However, all parties have raised various confusions and doubts regarding the position of restoring seats: If seats are restored, how do you calculate the accounts of the resignation since 1950? During this period, China and its membersHow to calculate the benefits of tariff concessions? Should the dues that China did not pay during this period be made up?

After negotiation, the parties finally got a tacit agreement.

Without prejudice to the restoration of seats, China intends to negotiate a new concession schedule with each member as the “entry fee” in fact according to the procedures of accession. , In order to fulfill the rights and obligations of GATT. Under the premise that China has actually entered into GATT in accordance with the accession procedures, all parties and GATT have no objection to China’s resumption of position.

Accordingly, the restoration is not the restoration of the original interruption point (restore), but the restoration (resume) at the end of the negotiation in the future after the negotiation, thus, The account when the predecessor retires to the current resume seat (resume) is written off.

In the entire China Customs Resumption Negotiations, any document that comes from the tone of GATT, including the name of the working group established to negotiate the restoration of seats in China, GATT avoided using “recovery.” Replaced with “China’s Status as a Contracting Party” (China’s Status as a Contracting Party). Although this statement is very mouth-watering, it is considered the greatest common divisor of all parties.

News: As an attorney attorney, you participated in the anti-dumping case of China v. EU Fasteners (DS397 case). After seven years of fierce battle, can you tell me your experience and feelings in handling this case?

Wang Lei: During my work in the Geneva Mission, I participated in the drafting and negotiation of several agreements of the Uruguay Round, including WTO dispute settlement procedures. Although I am familiar with the provisions, I have never had the opportunity to practice it. It was not until 2009 that I participated in representing the Chinese government in the WTO prosecuting the EU’s anti-dumping case against Chinese fasteners (the DS397 case), and I completed the process from drafting and negotiating the provisions to the practical dispute settlement of the applicable provisions and rules.

The case was negotiated in 2009 until the WTO’s enforcement appellate body issued a final ruling in January 2016. It took 7 and a half years and almost completed the WTO’s All legal relief procedures.

Fasteners are commonly known as industrial meters, including screws, nuts, bolts, washers, etc., and are widely used. my country is the world’s largest fastener manufacturing country, andIt is a big exporter of fasteners.

In 2007, the European Union initiated an anti-dumping investigation on Chinese steel fasteners, and made a ruling in 2009, imposing up to 85% on Chinese fastener products for a period of five years Anti-dumping duties. According to industry statistics, taxes began to be levied after the EU’s final anti-dumping ruling in 2009. Since then, my country’s market share in Europe has fallen sharply from 26% to 0.5%.

On July 31, 2009, the Chinese government referred the European measures to the WTO dispute settlement mechanism. The case has gone through two rounds of dispute settlement procedures in the original trial and the implementation. China has successively won the case in the original trial expert panel and the appeal stage. Since then, the European side revised the EU’s Basic Anti-dumping Regulations in 2012 to implement the rulings of the original panel of experts and the appellate body. However, the EU subsequently initiated a review of anti-dumping measures against Chinese fasteners and failed to comply with the WTO panel of experts and the appellate body’s review of anti-dumping measures. ruling. The Chinese government continued to resort to the WTO dispute settlement mechanism on the issue of EU enforcement of the ruling. Until 2016, the enforcement appellate body issued a final ruling, all supporting China’s claims.

The DS397 case is of epoch-making significance in many aspects: China sued the EU for the first time in the WTO and won the lawsuit; it has gone through all the legal remedies granted to the members by the WTO; Due to China’s victory, the EU was forced to amend the law; China obtained the right to retaliate against the EU for the first time after joining the WTO through the case; in addition, in the final report of the implementation stage issued by the Appellate Body on January 18, 2016, China received the support of the Enforcement Appellate Body on all 23 issues, and all the EU’s claims were rejected. This is unprecedented in the history of dispute settlement in China and even in the WTO.

News: After the big victory, will there be no obstacles for Chinese fastener companies to return to the EU?

Wang Lei: This is not the case. The WTO ruling only addresses the trade policy measures of the parties involved, and does not involve specific compensation, and the ruling is not binding on other members. This is an inherent defect of the WTO dispute settlement mechanism.

The DS397 case has been fought for 7 years, which actually means that during the 7 years during the litigation period, the EU has been using or partially using anti-dumping measures that are not in compliance with the WTO, and has not given The fair and reasonable competitive treatment of Chinese companies has forced many Chinese companies to withdraw from the market or give up their business in Europe.

The final WTO ruling in 2016 was five years ago. In 2020, the European Union reopened an anti-dumping investigation on carbon steel fasteners made in China. Just last month, on November 16, the EU ruling disclosed that the anti-dumping duty rate on certain imported steel fasteners originating in China was 23.9%-89.8%.

Won the fastener lawsuit in the WTO, but the Chinese fastener companies have lost real money in the EU market. The losing party, the EU, does not compensate, and the EU violates the WTO. The heavy damage to Chinese fastener companies has not been restored as it should be, and Chinese fasteners have not really returned to the EU market.

Of course, this is not to say that the WTO dispute settlement mechanism is useless. The WTO dispute settlement mechanism only maintains the balance of rights and obligations under the WTO that members have achieved. Wrong, do not make up for it.

News: If you use one word to summarize the 20 years since China joined the WTO, which word would you use?

Wang Lei: It can be summed up with the term “carrying on the past and opening up the future”. We must inherit the momentum of continuous reforms and opening up in the past 20 and 35 years, inherit that kind of international vision, and constantly open up new ones in the new era. the way.

Whether it is for China itself or for the WTO, I think it is applicable to carry forward the past.

I have experienced China’s prosperous reform and opening up in the 1980s and 1990s, and it can be said to be changing with each passing day. For China, we also need to continue this spirit of reform and opening up and open up new development paths. At the same time, the WTO has had glorious moments. Under today’s circumstances, how to carry forward the multilateral trading system and how to promote the WTO to continue to move forward requires the past.