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HONG KONG, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Talks on China's much anticipated entry into the World Trade Organisation could be wrapped up by March, with its entry to the trade club expected in the summer, European Union official Pascal Lamy said on Monday.
"I do think we will be able to take the last few hurdles and reach the finish line at the next session in Geneva, possibly in March," trade commissioner Lamy told reporters, referring to the next multilateral negotiating session, which has not yet been formally scheduled.
Lamy, EU's pointman on trade and WTO matters, was in Hong Kong on Monday for a working visit, his first since becoming EU trade commissioner in 1999.
With its agricultural sector particularly unprepared for international competition, China dug in its heels in defence of its farming subsidies at the January multilateral WTO talks in Geneva, causing its expected entry date to slide past mid-2001.
While the United States has voiced opposition to China's agricultural protection policies, the EU wants more assurances that China will maintain stability and transparency in its service sectors, especially insurance.
China has been seeking WTO entry for 14 years. Mexico is the only WTO member with which China has not yet signed a bilateral agreement regarding the latter's accession to the trade body.
Lamy also said that the EU expects and hopes for "the simultaneous accession of China and Taiwan to the WTO."
China regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has threatened to attack the island if it declares independence or drags its feet on reunification talks.
Lamy acknowledged that China's expected entry into WTO has raised concerns about its human rights record, but added, "I tend to believe that the net effect (of trade) is positive, and therefore to be encouraged."
The EU trade commissioner added that he hopes to see the launch of the next round of global trade talks at the Qatar WTO ministerial meeting in November 2001.
He said such talks would take place without China if it had not gained official WTO membership by then.
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