The China Quarterly

Research Article

Trade, Investment and Beyond: The Impact of WTO Accession on China's Legal System

Julia Ya Qin

Abstract

This article assesses the impact of China's accession to the World Trade Organization on its foreign trade and investment regime. While the government had begun liberalizing the Chinese economy long before joining the WTO, the accession induced regulatory, institutional and normative changes that have transformed the landscape of trade and investment in China. The profound impact of the WTO stems directly from the extensive commercial and rule commitments China undertook in its accession. Focusing on the most significant of these commitments, the article examines their implications for Chinese constitutional law and their effect on the regulation of foreign trade, foreign investment, intellectual property rights and domestic governance. Additionally, it looks at the impact of WTO disputes on Chinese law and practice. It concludes that China's accession has made its foreign trade and investment regime far more liberalized and less opaque than a decade ago. More importantly, the accession has institutionalized the process of China's domestic reform externally through the force of WTO obligations. Although much uncertainty remains concerning the future direction of government policies, WTO membership ensures that the course of China's economic development will be charted within the disciplines of the WTO system.