Economic Reform In China Could Soon Hit A Roadblock

BEIJING (AP) - China's economic reforms could slow or stop once World Trade Organization market-opening pledges are completed this year, leaving the government without explicit goals, a U.S. official warned Monday.

Washington is worried about suggestions by some officials that China restrict foreign investment or impose technology standards on mobile phones and other products that might limit competition, said Franklin L. Lavin, the U.S. undersecretary of commerce for international trade.

China will lack a ''roadmap for reform'' once its five-year WTO accession process, with detailed commitments to lower market barriers, is completed in December, Lavin said.

The end of that process and China's high economic growth ''risk creating an atmosphere where not only is the sense of reform fading a little bit, but there is even potential for retrogression,'' he said.

Lavin said American officials worry about ''policy drift'' in Beijing and the possible rise of protectionist sentiment. But, he said, Chinese officials assured him the economy would remain open.

Lavin also stressed that Washington regards trade with China as positive overall, with Chinese purchases of U.S. exports rising 20.5 percent last year to $41 billion. He said China could overtake Japan this year as the third-largest U.S. export market. That would rank the country behind Canada and Mexico as buyers of American goods.

Lavin met with officials of China's Commerce Ministry, central bank and economic planning agencies during a weeklong visit to Beijing and Shanghai, the country's commercial center.

He said he pressed officials about Beijing's failure to stop rampant violations of copyrights and other intellectual property, curbs on imports of U.S. beef and market access for American credit card companies.

Lavin said he expressed concern at calls by some officials for foreign investment limits and a campaign to promote China's own standards for mobile phones and other technology, which Washington and other trading partners say could limit market access for foreign companies.

''The Chinese government's repeated assertion to us is that they intend to keep China's economy open,'' he said.

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