Chinese and WTO debate the rights of foreign firms

AN EASING of the restrictions imposed on foreign lawyers by China may be on the horizon as the protracted negotiations over its application to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) draw to a close.

China and the WTO are understood by The Lawyer to be near to agreement on China's application to join the body.

One sticking point during the protracted talks, which are currently taking place in Geneva, has been the rights China is prepared to extend to international lawyers.

In the previous round of talks, held in Beijing in March, China proposed to limit the number of foreign firms there to 80, even though there are already more than 70 foreign firms based in the country. It also planned to impose a ban on the hiring of local lawyers by foreign practices.

However, the proposals were deemed unacceptable by the European Union, which represents Europe's interests at the WTO.

The impasse has created uncertainty within the international legal community, and it will welcome the prospect of the situation being clarified.

It is also hoped that any deal on China's entry to the WTO will liberalise the country's legal market for foreign firms.

The Law Society has been working closely with the EU during the negotiations and is not commenting until they have been concluded.