The Effect of China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO DSM

Author:Qianyi Sa
The Effect of China’s Law-Making Power on
its Participation in the WTO DSM
Qianyi Sa
In recent years, the World Trade
Organization (hereafter WTO) has been
influenced by events taking place in member
states, such as the United States launching a
protectionist trade war. China and the US
have both launched a series of disputes against
each other in the WTO Dispute Settlement
Mechanism (hereafter DSM), which has
caused China’s engagement with the DSM to
become a heated and controversial topic.
During its eighteen years of participation in
the DSM, China has changed from first being
a silent member to a relatively active
participant, and finally a more sophisticated
player. Its participation in the DSM shows
China’s graduate journey in its interaction
with the international community and its
integration in international trade governance.
The aim of this article is to examine the extent
to which China’s widely dispersed legislative
power has affected its participation in the
DSM through an analysis of six WTO cases
involving China. This article mainly focuses
146 SLJ 7 (1)
on the following situation: WTO-inconsistent
rules issued by the State Council and its
departments, through a detailed analysis of a
specific WTO dispute, namely, China
Measures Related to Demonstration Bases
and Common Service Platforms Programmes
DS489 (2015, the US v China) (hereafter
China Demonstration Bases) and it is vital
that solutions to this problem should be
proposed in terms of integrating conformity
with WTO principles into China’s legal
system.1
Introduction
I. China’s Legislative System
The structure of the Chinese legislature is complicated.
China’s law-making power resides in both legislative
authorities and administrative branches at the central and
local levels.2
1 WTO, China Measures Related to Demonstration Bases and
Common Service Platforms Programmes Request for
Consultations by the United States (19 February 2015)
WT/DS489/1, G/L/1105 and G/SCM/D105/1. (China
Demonstration Bases Request).
2 Articles 62 and 67 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic
of China (adopted by the 5th National People’s Congress on 4
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 147
There are six levels of legal instruments included in China’s
legislative hierarchy (see Table 1).3 First, the Constitution
criminal, civil and state organic laws enacted and amended
by the National People’s Congress (NPC). Second, laws other
than those enacted by the NPC, which are amended and
enacted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s
Congress SCNPC). Third, administrative regulations
promulgated by the State Council. Fourth, local people’s
congress regulations promulgated by local people’s
congresses and standing committees in provinces,
autonomous regions, municipalities directly under the
central government, major cities and special economic zones.4
Fifth, ministry rules issued by central-level ministries,
commissions, agencies or entities subordinated to the State
Council, and government rules published by provincial
governments, autonomous regions, municipalities directly
under the central government, and major cities. And sixth,
December 1982 with further revisions in 1988, 1993, 1999, 2004
and 2018) (hereinafter the Constitution).
3 Jianfu Chen, Chinese Law: Context and Transformation (Brill
Nijhoff 2015) 253. See also Peerenboom (n 1) 241.
4 Article 63 of the 2000 Legislation . Pingfeng Xiang, ‘ ‘‘Jiaoda de
Shi’’ Lifa Youguan Qingkuang Zongshu’ (An Overview of
Legislative Power of ‘Major Cities’) (The National People’s
Congress of the People’s Republic of China, 14 September 2009)
804/49464.html> accessed 7 February 2019.
148 SLJ 7 (1)
normative documents issued by people’s congresses and
governments.5
Table 1: China’s legislative hierarchy6
Number
Institutions
Legal instruments
First level
National People’s
Congress
Constitution (xian fa),
criminal (xingshi), civil
(minshi) and state
organic (guojiajigou)
laws and other basic
laws (jiben fa).
Second level
Standing Committee of
the National People’s
Congress
Laws (falu) other than
those to be enacted by
the National People’s
Congress
Third level
State Council
Administrative
regulations (xingzheng
fagui)
5 For more details, see Chen Chinese Law: Context and
Transformation (n 6) 255.
6 Peerenboom (n 1) 271.
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 149
Fourth level
Local people’s
congresses and standing
committees of provinces,
autonomous regions,
municipalities directly
under the central
government, major cities
and special economic
zones
Local people’s congress
regulations (difangxing
fagui)
Fifth level
Central-level ministries,
commissions, agencies or
entities subordinated to
the State Council and
provincial governments,
autonomous regions and
municipalities directly
under the central
government, and major
cities
Rules: ministry rules
(bumen guizhang) and
government rules
(zhengfu guizhang)
Sixth level
People’s congresses and
governments
Normative documents
First of all, the NPC is the supreme legislative organ in China.
It is responsible for amending the Constitution and
overseeing its enforcement; additionally it enacts and
modifies basic laws related to criminal offences, civil affairs,
150 SLJ 7 (1)
state organs and so forth.7 Secondly, the SCNPC interprets
the Constitution and supervises its enforcement; it issues and
revises statutes apart from those which should be enacted by
the NPC. The SCNPC partially supplements and amends the
laws enacted by the NPC when it is not in session and
interprets other laws as well.8 Thirdly, the State Council has
legislative power delegated from the NPC and the SCNPC.9
The State Council also issues administrative regulations and
rules in accordance with the Constitution, and this accounts
for the complexity of the legislative system in China.10 As the
highest administrative organ of the state, the State Council
not only exercises executive power but it also has inherent
legislative power.11 In practice, the number of administrative
regulations and rules implemented by the State Council and
its departments considerably exceed those issued by the NPC
and the SCNPC. For instance, 642 regulations or rules were
enacted by the State Council and its bureaucracies by the end
of March 2017, while the NPC and the SCNPC promulgated
only 267 laws as of April 2018.12 Fourthly, the most
7 The Constitution, art 58 and 62.
8 The Constitution, art 67.
9 Article 9 of the 2015 Legislation Law.
10 The Constitution, art 85 and 89.
11 The Constitution, art 85.
12 Haoxuan Tian, ‘Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Xianxing Youxiao
Xingzheng Fagui Mulu’ (Catalogue of Regulations of the People’s
Republic of China in Force) (Law in Orient, 3 March 2017)
accessed 27 January 2019. Jilin Law Society ‘Zhonghua Renmin
Gongheguo Xianxing Falu Mulu’ (Catalogue of Laws of the
People’s Republic of China in Force) (April 2018)
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 151
complicated part of the law-making power is the
empowerment of legislative power at local levels. Various
sub-national entities are granted legislative power. (See Table
1). Lastly, various ministries and commissions subordinate to
the State Council are also authorised to issue rules.13
II. China’s Delegated Law-Making Power
This section aims to demonstrate the first situation, that is
where the State Council and its departments issue a rule or
regulation which is inconsistent with WTO norms, caused by
China’s dispersed law-making power and explain why it
affects China’s engagement with the DSM. The Protocol
confirms that the principle of uniform administration will
apply and administer all laws, regulations and other
measures passed by central and local legislative organs in
several areas. These areas cover trade in goods, services, and
trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights in a
uniform, impartial, and reasonable manner.14 In other words,
because of the principle of uniform administration, all of
China’s national and sub-national laws, regulations, and
other measures should be consistent with the WTO
Agreement.15 As a result, if an administrative regulation
issued by the State Council or a ministry rule enacted by the
accessed 7 February
2019.
13 The Constitution, art 90.
14 Paragraph 2(A) of the Protocol.
15 Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade
Organization (15 April 1994) 1867 UNTS 154.
152 SLJ 7 (1)
departments directly under the State Council violates the
WTO Agreement, a large number of local legal instruments
implementing such central-level legal instruments will be
also found to be inconsistent with WTO principles. This is
because the NPC and the SCNPC grant discretionary
legislative power to various local organs. In accordance with
the Legislation Law at a local level, the right to legislate is
afforded to a large number of local legislative institutions.
These law-making organs include local people’s congresses
and standing committees of provinces, municipalities directly
under the central government, autonomous regions, major
cities approved by the State Council and special economic
zones. It also grants law-making power to provincial
governments, municipalities directly under the central
government, autonomous regions, and major cities approved
by the State Council (see Table 1).16 Until July 2016, there
were approximately 9,915 local people’s congress legislations
in force.17
Clearly, it is a challenge for China to make a large number of
instruments issued by local entities compliant with WTO
rules. Prior to China’s accession to the WTO, it had
undergone an overhaul of its laws, regulations, and rules.
16 See the 2000 Legislation Law, art 63 and the 2015 Legislation
Law, art 72. See also Chen, Chinese Law: Context and
Transformation (n 6) 251.
17 Di Ershier Ci Quanguo Difang Lifa Yantaohui Zhaokai’ (The 22nd
Conference on Local Legislative Power) National People’s
Congress (People, 9 September 2016)
accessed 7 February 2019.
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 153
Before 2015, more than 2,300 laws, regulations, and rules had
been drafted, revised, and abrogated at the central level.
Moreover, over 190,000 regulations, rules, and other policy
measures had been revamped at the local level.18
Nevertheless, China’s laws, administrative regulations, and
ministry rules contain broad and vague language, and leave a
large margin for local authorities to set out more detailed
contents. Local regulations and rules are usually more
detailed but with less strict supervision, which makes them
unlikely to satisfy WTO norms. Therefore, it is common that
in WTO cases, if a law, regulation, or rule is found to violate
the WTO Agreement, then the substantive regulations and
rules made by local authorities will also be claimed to violate
the WTO Agreement by other WTO members. This section
attempts to explain the situation through an analysis of China
Demonstration Bases.19
18 Yuan Yuan, ‘Looking Back 14 Years After Accession: Case of
China’. Intervention at Session 2 of Day 1: Transition from
Accession to Membership Maximizing the Benefits of WTO
Membership and Global Economic Integration. Third China
Round Table on WTO Accessions (Dushanbe, Tajikistan, 2 June
2015) 4
nPostAccessionLookingback14yearafter.pdf> accessed 7
February 2019.
19 WTO, China Measures Related to Demonstration Bases and
Common Service Platforms Programmes Request for
Consultations by the United States (19 February 2015)
154 SLJ 7 (1)
In this dispute, the US alleged that China had imposed
subsidies contingent on export performance for certain
companies in China through certain programmes.20 The
questionable programmes provided export-contingent
subsidies through the setting up of Foreign Trade
Transformation and Upgrading Demonstration Bases
(Demonstration Bases) and Foreign Trade Common Service
Platforms (Common Service Platforms). ‘Demonstration
Bases’ are industrial clusters of enterprises in several Chinese
industries in the areas of textiles, agriculture, medical
products, light industry, special chemical engineering, new
materials, and hardware and building materials.21 The US
claimed that these enterprises defined as the demonstration
bases were granted export-contingent subsidies by Chinese
central and sub-national government bodies. It also argued
that ‘Common Service Platforms’ provided benefits including
discounts, free services, and cash grants to companies located
in the demonstration bases. Common Service Platforms
intend to provide a series of services to encourage local
businesses’ development of foreign trade in different
provinces in China.22 According to Article 3.2(a) of the SCM
WT/DS489/1, G/L/1105 and G/SCM/D105/1. (hereafter China
Demonstration Bases Request).
20 ibid.
21 ibid.
22 See ‘Chengdu Waimao Gonggong Fuwu Pingtai’ (Chengdu
Common Service Platform) (Baidu Baike, 9 April 2013)
A4%96%E8%B4%B8%E5%85%AC%E5%85%B1%E6%9C%8D%E
5%8A%A1%E5%B9%B3%E5%8F%B0/10360912> accessed 07
February 2019.
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 155
Agreement, subsidies contingent upon export performance
are forbidden, thus China’s measures providing export-
contingent subsidies are therefore inconsistent with the WTO
Agreement.23 In this regard, the US government compiled a
list covering the regulations and rules enacted by China’s
legislatures at central and local levels which were suspected
to violate WTO norms. For example, with regard to the
‘demonstration bases instruments’ in question, there were
eight central-level WTO-inconsistent legal instruments, while
fifty-one local regulations were found to violate the WTO
Agreement.
In China Demonstration Bases, China’s measures regulated
by central and local governments are subject to the
‘prohibited subsidies’ clause under the SCM Agreement and
are prohibited under the WTO system. In order to confirm
whether these measures belong to ‘prohibited subsidies’, they
need to fulfil three requirements: first and foremost, the
measures should be regarded as subsidies; second, the
23 In the memorandum, China agreed to remove WTO-
inconsistent measures at both central and sub-national levels.
See WTO, China Measures Related to Demonstration Bases and
Common Service Platforms Programmes Memorandum of
Understanding Between the People’s Republic of China and the
United States of America Related to the Dispute China
Measures Related to Demonstration Bases and Common Service
Platforms Programmes (DS489) (19 April 2016) WT/DS489/7
(hereafter China Demonstration Bases Memorandum). See also,
Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (15 April
1995) 1869 UNTS 14 (hereafter SCM Agreement).
156 SLJ 7 (1)
measures at issue should fall under the scope of subsidies
under the SCM Agreement; third, China’s measures should
be identified as ‘prohibited subsidies’ under the SCM
Agreement (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Elements determining whether a measure is regarded
as a prohibited subsidy under the SCM Agreement24
24 Reference materials were collected from WTO, ‘Anti-
Dumping, Subsidies, Safeguards: Contingencies, etc.’
htm#subsidies> accessed 7 February 2019.
First, a 'financial contribution by a
government or any public body' or 'any
form of income or price support'
Second, a 'benefit' should be conferred
through a financial contribution
A. Subsidies
Specificity
B. Subsidies under
the SCM
First, contingent on export
performance
Second, contingent on law or practice
C. Prohibited
subsidies
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 157
A. Subsidies
This section aims to examine whether China’s measures in
question are subject to subsidies regulation. According to
Article 1.1 and 1.2 of the SCM Agreement, the definition of
the subsidy is as follows: 25
1.1 For the purpose of this Agreement, a subsidy shall be
deemed to exist if:
(a)(1) there is a financial contribution by a government or any
public body within the territory of a Member (referred to in
this Agreement as ‘government’), i.e. where:
(i) a government practice involves a direct transfer of funds
(e.g. grants, loans, and equity infusion), potential direct
transfers of funds or liabilities (e.g. loan guarantees);
(ii) government revenue that is otherwise due is foregone or
not collected (e.g. fiscal incentives such as tax credits);
(iii) a government provides goods or services other than
general infrastructure, or purchases goods;
(iv) a government makes payments to a funding mechanism,
or entrusts or directs a private body to carry out one or more
of the type of functions illustrated in (i) to (iii) above which
would normally be vested in the government and the
25 SCM Agreement, art 1.1.
158 SLJ 7 (1)
practice, in no real sense, differs from practices normally
followed by governments;
or
(a)(2) there is any form of income or price support in the
sense of Article XVI of GATT 1994;
and
(b) a benefit is thereby conferred.
1.2 A subsidy as defined in paragraph 1 shall be subject to the
provisions of Part II or shall be subject to the provisions of
Part III or V only if such a subsidy is specific in accordance
with the provisions of Article 2.26
According to Article 1.1 of the SCM Agreement, two requisite
elements are set forth to determine whether a measure at
issue is a subsidy: the first is that there should be a ‘financial
contribution by a government or any public body’ or ‘any
form of income or price support’; the second is that a ‘benefit’
should be conferred through a financial contribution.27
Therefore, this section begins with an analysis of whether
China’s measures are considered to be subsidies. It can be
argued that China’s measures at issue were considered as
26 SCM Agreement, art 1.2.
27 Simon Lester and Bryan Mercurio with Arwel Davies and
Kara Leitner, World Trade Law Text, Materials and Commentary
(2nd edn, Hart Publishing 2008) 423.
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 159
subsidies. The reasons are as follows. First and foremost, if
the measures set forth in Ministry of Finance, Ministry of
Commerce Notice on Doing Well the Administration Work of
the 2013 Foreign Trade Common Service Platform
Construction Fund (Notice No. 101) can be determined as
subsidies. A requirement needs to be fulfilled: namely, that ‘a
financial contribution’ or ‘any form of income or price’ is
provided by this notice. Pursuant to Article 1.1(a)(1)(i) of the
SCM Agreement as cited above, if government practice
involves a direct transfer of funds including grants, loans,
etc., the government practice will be deemed to be a financial
contribution. China’s measures as set forth in Notice No. 101
met this threshold. This is because Notice No. 101 provided
funds to enterprises in the demonstration bases. For example,
Notice No. 101 stated that the central government strongly
supported a series of companies in the demonstration bases
covering agricultural products, light industrial technology,
textiles and clothing, medical products, special chemical
engineering, new materials, building materials, mechatronics,
high-technology, strategic new industries, etc. It also
provided a series of grants to these industries as well; for
instance, fees for facilities in the Common Service Platform,
fees for design, fees relating to leases and fees for employing
experts for training. A number of sub-national regulations
were published in order to implement Notice No. 101 such as
Guangdong Province Department of Foreign Trade and
Economic Cooperation, Department of Finance Notice on
Doing Well the Administrative Work of the 2013 Foreign
Trade Common Service Platform Construction Fund
(hereafter Notice No. 12).The funds granted by the ministries
160 SLJ 7 (1)
of commerce and of finance in Notice No. 101 and pertinent
government rules implementing this notice were considered
to be ‘grants’ as listed in Article 1.1(a)(1)(i) of the SCM
Agreement. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the
definition of grants is ‘a sum of money given by a
government or other organisation for a particular purpose’.28
Clearly, the aim of these grants provided by China’s
government bodies was to enhance the development of
foreign trade in the demonstration bases. The Appellate Body
in US Measures Affecting Trade in Large Civil Aircraft Second
Complaint DS353 (2005, the EC v the US) mentioned that a
‘direct transfer of funds’ inscribed in paragraph (i) under
Article 1.1(a) meant, ‘conduct on the part of the government
by which money, financial resources, and/or financial claims
are made available to a recipient’.29 It also stated that grants
meant that ‘in such a transaction, money or money’s worth is
given to a recipient, normally without an obligation or
expectation that anything will be provided to the grantor in
return’.30 It can be seen that China’s measures on the
Common Service Platforms did not require the recipients to
return the money or money’s worth, and in some
circumstances the government provided partial funds to
qualified companies. For example, Ningbo City Bureau of
28 'grant’, (OED Online, OUP June 2013)
/grant_2> accessed 7 February 2019.
29 WTO, United States Measures Affecting Trade in Large Civil
Aircraft Second Complaint Appellate Body Report (12 March
2012) WT/DS353/AB/R para 614.
30 ibid para 616.
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 161
Foreign Trade and Cooperation, Bureau of Finance Notice on
Doing Well the Administrative Work of the 2013 Foreign
Trade Common Service Platform Construction Fund (Notice
No. 97) provided less than 50 % of the actual money of the
programme to recipients and the amount of money the
government was able to grant was less than 3 million yuan. 31
Therefore, there can be little doubt that China’s measures
were financial contributions.
With regard to the first requisite element set forth to
determine a subsidy, it is necessary to examine whether
China’s measures were initiated by the government or at the
direction of the government or any public organ. The term
‘government’ can include both central government and sub-
national government bodies.32 For example, the Guangdong
Province Department of Foreign Trade and Economic
Cooperation set up the designated programmes and the
amount of money to fund based on the assessment and the
31 Ningbo City Bureau of Foreign Trade and Cooperation,
Bureau of Finance Notice on Doing Well the Administration
Work of the 2013 Foreign Trade Common Service Platform
Construction Fund, Ningbo City Bureau of Foreign Trade and
Cooperation, Bureau of Finance, Yong Wai Jing [2013] No.97.
See Notice No.97, art 4.2 (a).
32 WTO, ‘Subsidies and Countervailing Measures: Overview:
Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (“SCM
Agreement”)’
>
accessed 7 February 2019.
162 SLJ 7 (1)
examination reports.33 The Guangdong Province Department
of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation first issued the
designated programmes report and then the Guangdong
Province Department of Finance reviewed the report and
distributed money to the designated programmes based on
the financial budget.34 Local financial departments
subordinate to the Department of Finance in Guangdong
Province were to then comply with the rules set out in this
regulation and allocate funds to related companies.35 Another
example is Notice No. 97. According to Article 5, the Bureau
of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation and the Bureau
of Finance in Ningbo City had the responsibility of
distributing the special funds. In particular, these two
governmental organs determined which demonstration base
was entitled to receive grants.36 They organised the
application of the programmes and provided details on how
to support such programmes.37 These two governmental
organs also monitored the construction, operation, and
provision of public services. It can be seen from the above
provisions that the Common Service Platforms were
administered by various departments at different levels of
governments including the central government, local
governments at the provincial level, and certain cities such as
33 Notice 12, art 6(d).
34 ibid.
35 ibid.
36 Notice No.97, art 5.
37 ibid.
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 163
Qingdao, Wuzhou, and Xuchang.38 Therefore, it can be
confirmed that China’s measures as set forth in Notice No.
101 and pertinent sub-government measures implementing
Notice No. 101 were financial contributions conferred by the
central and local governments of China.
Second, it is necessary to examine whether such measures
confer a benefit. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a
‘benefit’ is ‘a payment made by the state and an insurance
scheme to someone entitled to receive it’.39 Notice No. 101 de
facto stipulated that these special funds given to certain
enterprises in the demonstration bases were under the
administration of Chinese government bodies. As pointed
out above, it can reasonably be said that China’s measures on
the Common Service Platforms were ‘a payment made by the
state’ as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary. In Canada
Measures Affecting the Export of Civilian Aircraft DS70 (Brazil v
Canada, 1997) (hereafter Canada Aircraft), the Appellate
Body described the principles of benefit as follows: the
marketplace provides an appropriate basis for the
38 Qingdao City is one of the major cities designed as such by the
State Council, so it has legislative power. With regard to
Wuzhou City and Xuchang City, they do not belong to the list of
major cities, so they do not have legislative power. This case was
brought before the 2015 Legislative Law was revised. Therefore,
whether a city in this case had legislative power should apply to
2000 Legislative Law.
39 'benefit, n' (OED Online, OUP June 2013)
n_english/benefit_2> accessed 7 February 2019.
164 SLJ 7 (1)
comparison in determining whether a “benefit” has been
“conferred” as the trade-distorting potential of a “financial
contribution” can be identified based on whether the
recipient has received a “financial contribution” on more
favourable terms than those available to the recipient in the
market.40
As analysed above, China’s measures were intended to
provide grants to certain enterprises in the demonstration
bases and such grants were conferred by government
agencies. Compared to enterprises which received no such
financial contributions granted by China’s measures, the
recipients were clearly better off. Therefore, China’s
measures undoubtedly provided a benefit.
B. Subsidies under the SCM Agreement
In order to ascertain whether a subsidy is within the meaning
of the SCM Agreement, the second element should be met.
This is that the subsidy at issue shall be ‘specific’ in light of
Article 2.1 of the SCM Agreement.41 In other words, it should
not only fulfil the requirement of being ‘a financial
40 WTO, Canada Measures Affecting the Export of Civilian Aircraft
Appellate Body Report (2 August 1999) WT/DS70/AB/R para
157 (hereafter Canada Aircraft Appellate Body Report).
41 WTO, ‘Subsidies and Countervailing Measures: Overview:
Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (“SCM
Agreement”)’
accessed 7 February 2019.
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 165
contribution conferring a benefit’ by a government or at the
direction of the government or any public body, but it is also
necessary to prove that the subsidy is ‘specific’. Article 2.1 (a)
of the SCM Agreement clarifies what ‘the specificity of a
subsidy’ means, which is as follows:
In order to determine whether a subsidy, as defined in
paragraph 1 of Article 1, is specific to an enterprise or
industry or group of enterprises or industries (referred to in
this Agreement as certain enterprises) within the jurisdiction
of the granting authority, the following principles shall
apply: Where the granting authority, or the legislation
pursuant to which the granting authority operates, explicitly
limits access to a subsidy to certain enterprises, such subsidy
shall be specific.42
Clearly, China’s measures met the requirement of this
provision because of the ‘specificity’ of China’s measures in
question. The grants provided by China’s measures set up
two requirements limiting the scope of recipients in order to
limit access to certain enterprises: (1) China’s measures
narrow down the scope of categories of industries that the
grants were aimed at, for instance agriculture, textiles and
clothing, and special chemical engineering; (2) According to
measures conducted by China, it offered grants to ‘certain
industrial clusters of enterprises’ which were considered as
‘the demonstration bases’. Taking Notice No. 101 as an
42 SCM Agreement, art 2.1(a).
166 SLJ 7 (1)
example, the subsidies it granted were specific to a group of
enterprises or industries: (1) these enterprises were within a
series of sectors such as agriculture, medication, and textiles,
and clothing; (2) Notice No. 101 further specified that the
grants were for enterprises that were deemed to be
demonstration bases. Additionally, China’s measures pointed
out that the grants were specific to a group of enterprises or
industries which can be seen from conditions which were
required by the demonstration bases. The grants only
provided to the demonstration bases which fulfilled the
following requirements: industrial scope, the development of
technology, export scope, the degree of the upgrade, and
transformation of foreign trade, etc. Therefore, China
explicitly restricted access to these special funds that granted
to the demonstration bases. The measures were consequently
subsidies which fell within the scope of the SCM Agreement.
C. Prohibited Subsidies
As a next step, it was necessary to determine what kind of
subsidies China’s measures were subject to and whether
these measures were inconsistent with the SCM Agreement.
There are three types of subsidies under the SCM Agreement:
(1) ‘prohibited subsidies’ which are regulated in Part II; (2)
‘actionable subsidies’ in Part III; and (3) ‘non-actionable
subsidies’ in Part IV in Article 1.2 of the SCM Agreement.43
With regard to prohibited subsidies, these are forbidden in
43 Article 1.2 of the SCM Agreement
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 167
the SCM Agreement. For actionable subsidies, if the
measures in question satisfy certain requisite elements, they
are considered as actionable subsidies.44 Non-actionable
subsidies lapsed on 31 December 1999.45
Based on an analysis of these three types of subsidies, China’s
measures were subject to ‘prohibited subsidies’ in light of
Article 3.1(a) of the SCM Agreement.46
Based on Article 3.1(a), if China’s measures were to be
regarded as prohibited subsidies, several requisite elements
needed to be fulfilled (see Table 2).
First of all, such prohibited subsidies should be contingent on
export performance. In US Tax Treatment for ‘Foreign Sales
Corporations’ DS108 (1997, the EU v the US), the Appellate
Body explained that the prohibited subsidy conferred by a
granting authority should be conditional or dependent on
export performance.47 Also in Canada Aircraft, the Appellate
44 WTO, ‘Understanding the WTO: The Agreements: Anti-
dumping, Subsidies, Safeguards: Contingencies’
htm> accessed 18 February 2020.
45 WTO, ‘Dispute Settlement: 3.7 Subsidies and Countervailing
Measures’ United Nations Conference on Trade and
Development (2003) 17
accessed 18 February 2020.
46 SCM Agreement, art 3.
47 WTO, United States Tax Treatment for ‘Foreign Sales
Corporations’, Second Resource to Article 21.5 of the DSU by the
168 SLJ 7 (1)
Body and the Panel upheld that in the case of prohibited
subsidies, there must be a relationship of conditionality or
dependence between the subsidy at issue and the anticipated
exportation or export earnings.48 In this case, the challenged
legal instruments were Notice No. 101 and pertinent local
rules implementing it. The Common Service Platforms
Programme intended to establish a platform serving foreign
trade through granting funds and other financial support.
The purpose of Notice No. 101 on the Common Service
Platforms Programme was to encourage an upgrade and
transformation of foreign trade, to increase the competition of
foreign trade, and to enhance the level and the quality of
foreign trade. For example, Zhejiang Province Department of
Commerce, Department of Finance Notice on Doing Well the
Administrative Work of 2013 Foreign Trade Common Service
Platform Construction Fund (Notice No. 84) which
implemented Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Commerce
Notice on Doing Well the Administration Work of the 2013
Foreign Trade Common Service Platform Construction
Fund.49 Notice No. 84 specified two types of supported
European Union Communities Appellate Body Report (13
February 2006) WT/DS108/AB/RW2 para 11
48 WTO, Canada Measures Affecting the Export of Civilian Aircraft
Appellate Body Report (2 August 1999) WT/DS70/AB/R paras 47 -
48.
49 Zhejiang Province Department of Commerce, Department of
Finance Notice on Doing Well the Administration Work of 2013
Foreign Trade Common Service Platform Construction Fund,
Zhejiang Province Department of Commerce, Department of
Finance, Zhe Cai Qi [2011] No. 88 (29 July 2013).
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 169
demonstration bases to which Notice No. 84 intended to offer
grants through the Common Service Platforms Programme.
Among them, the first category of demonstration bases were
demonstration bases supported by Ministry of Commerce in
terms of agriculture, light industrial technology, textile and
appeal, medical, special chemical engineering, new materials,
metal building materials, electromechanical engineering,
high-tech and new strategic industries and other
demonstration bases at national level.50
In China Demonstration Bases, the US argued that another
legislation relating to demonstration bases programme was
inconsistent with the Agreement on Subsidies and
Countervailing Measures and it was Ministry of Commerce
Letter on Carrying Out the Cultivation Work for the Foreign
Trade Transformation and Updating Demonstration Bases
(Letter No.62).51 The Foreign Trade Transformation and
Updating Demonstration Bases in this legislation fell within
the scope of the first category of bases in Notice No. 84. In
Letter No.62, three categories of model demonstration bases
were supported by the central government: sector-type
accessed 12
April 2020.
50 See Notice No.84, art 2.1.
51 Ministry of Commerce Letter on Carrying Out the Cultivation
Work for the Foreign Trade Transformation and Updating
Demonstration Bases, Ministry of Commerce, Shang Mao Han
[2011] No.62 (14 February 2011)
30700222484.shtml> accessed 12 April 2020
170 SLJ 7 (1)
bases,52 enterprise-type bases,53 and mix-type bases54. The
criteria for recognising these three types of bases included
two requirements: the scope and the level of export of the
bases and the enhancement of the upgrade and
transformation of exportation.55 Both of these two
requirements are contingent on export performance.
Therefore, it can be concluded that China’s measures at issue
were subsidies contingent upon export performance. This can
be illustrated by the memorandum concluded in China
Demonstration Bases.56 China confirmed that Letter No.62
ceased to be in force and new central base measures would
not cover any text referring to export performance as the aim
of the programme or any criteria based on export
performance.57
Second, China’s measures in question satisfied another
requirement of ‘prohibited measures’, which is that the
prohibited subsidies under the SCM Agreement should be
contingent in law or in practice. It can be argued that China’s
measures granting subsidies are contingent in law. In China
Demonstration Bases, with regard to Common Service
Platforms WTO-inconsistent instruments, the US listed eight
central-level legal instruments on the Common Service
Platforms including Notice No. 101, which have been
52 Letter No.62, art 2.2 (a) of Annex 1.
53 Letter No.62, art 2.2 (b) of Annex 1.
54 Letter No.62, art 2.2 (c) of Annex 1.
55 Letter No.62, art 3.2 of Annex 1.
56 WTO, China Demonstration Bases Request.
57 WTO, China Demonstration Bases Memorandum, art 4(b).
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 171
discussed above.58 The adverse effect was that ninety-eight
local-level legal instruments were found to violate the WTO
rules due to implementation of the eight central-level
regulations.59 Specifically, a large number of provincial
governments, municipalities directly under the central
government, and major cities have published similar notices
to implement Notice No. 101, such as the Departments of
Commerce and Finance in Shandong Province, Hebei
Province and Tianjin Municipality.60 Even in some
autonomous regions, government agencies issued related
notices to support the Common Service Platforms
Programme, for example Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous
Region. Some major cities designated by the State Council
such as Qingdao City of Shandong Province enacted
58 WTO, China Demonstration Bases Request.
59 ibid.
60 Tianjin Municipality Department of Commerce, Department of
Finance Notice on Doing Well the Administration Work of the
2013 Foreign Trade Common Service Platform Contracture
Fund, Tianjin City Department, Department of Finance, Jin Cai
Er [2013] No.9. Shandong Province Department of Finance,
Department of Commerce Notice on Doing Well the
Administration Work of the 2013 Foreign Trade Common
Service Platform Contracture Fund, Shandong Province
Department of Finance, Department of Commerce, Lu Cai Qi
[2013] No.38 (31 July 2013). Hebei Province Department of
Finance, Hebei Department of Commerce Notice on Doing Well
the Administration Work of the 2013 Foreign Trade Common
Service Platform Contracture Fund, Hebei Province Department
of Finance, Department of Commerce, Ji Cai Qi [2013] No.9 (10
April 2013).
172 SLJ 7 (1)
government rules to implement Notice No. 101. As some
cities have not been granted legislative power, they have
published normative documents to implement pertinent legal
instruments on the Common Service Platforms Programme.
For instance, the Bureau of Finance and Bureau of Commerce
of Wuzhou City in Guangxi Province, which published a
normative document to implement Guangxi Province
Department of Finance, Guangxi Province Department of
Commerce Notice on Doing Well the Administrative Work of
the 2013 Foreign Trade Common Service Platform
Construction Fund (hereafter Notice No. 34). The US
persuasively argued that these legal instruments violated
WTO rules. Therefore, it can be concluded that China’s
measures conferring grants through the Common Service
Platforms Programmes were prohibited subsidies under the
SCM Agreement.
Based on the analysis of whether China’s measures relating
to the Common Service Platforms violate the WTO
Agreement, it is evident that detrimental effects were
brought about by China’s dispersed legislative powers. In
China Demonstration Bases, the main WTO-inconsistent legal
instrument was Notice No. 101. Because of this, forty-seven
local implementing rules violated the WTO Agreement as
well. These legislative authorities were at the provincial,
municipal, autonomous regional, and major city levels. In
this case, the situation was made even worse as some cities
were not granted the legislative power to enact government
rules. However, they did have the power to issue normative
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 173
documents in order to implement rules at the provincial level
which intended to implement Notice No. 101.61 For example,
according to a normative document issued by Xuchang City
which implemented the Bureau of Finance and Bureau of
Commerce in Henan Province Notice on Doing Well the
Administrative Work of the 2013 Foreign Trade Common
Service Platform Construction Fund, Henan Province granted
funds and other financial supports to ten Common Service
Platforms in the demonstration bases specialising in the
exportation of hair products.62
With regard to the amount of grants to the ten Common
Service Platforms, Henan Province Department of Commerce
and Department of Finance provided 70 % of actual expenses
to certain enterprises.63 Similar provisions can be found in the
Wuzhou Notice. The Bureau of Finance and Bureau of
Commerce of Wuzhou City in Guangxi Province published a
normative document to implement Notice No. 34 which
offered a two-year period of grants.64 As pointed out above,
61 Article 63 of the 2000 Legislation Law.
62 Xuchang City Bureau of Finance, Bureau of Commerce Notice
on Doing Well the Administration Work of the 2013 Foreign
Trade Common Service Platform Construction Fund, Xuchang
City Bureau Finance, Bureau of Commerce Fund (11 November
2014)
> accessed 12 April 2020
63 ibid art 3.2.
64 Wuzhou City Bureau of Finance, Bureau of Commerce Notice
on Doing Well the Administration Work of the 2013 Foreign
174 SLJ 7 (1)
China was supposed to apply and administer all laws,
regulations, rules, and other measures concerning trade in
goods, services, trade-related aspects of intellectual property
rights, or the control of foreign exchange at the central level
and the sub-national level in a uniform, impartial, and
reasonable manner.65 The aforementioned legal instruments
issued by the Bureaus of Finance and Commerce in Xuchang
City and Wuzhou City were subject to normative documents
because these two cities do not belong to the comparatively
larger cities.66 Thus, these two legal instruments can be
considered as ‘other measures’ of Article 2(A)2 of the
Protocol.
If taking account of all the WTO-inconsistent instruments
issued by local governments intended to implement Notice
No. 101, the total number is forty-seven. Even worse, in China
Demonstration Bases, the US listed ninety-eight WTO-
inconsistent legal instruments relating to the Common
Service Platforms Programme at the sub-national level. Apart
from China Demonstration Bases (2015, the US v China),
China has faced similar situations in five other cases.67
Trade Common Service Platform Construction Fund, Wuzhou
City Bureau of Finance, Bureau of Commerce (25 October 2013)
accessed 12 April 2020
65 Protocol, art 2(A)2.
66 See notes 7, 42, 70 and 71.
67 WTO, China Grants, Loans and Other Incentives Request
for Consultations by the United States (7 January 2009)
WT/DS387/1, G/L/879, G/SCM/D81/1 and G/AG/GEN/79. WTO,
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 175
The dispersed legislative powers have done great harm to
China’s conformity with WTO principles, as one WTO-
inconsistent central-level legal instrument can generate a
massive number of local government rules and normative
documents which are inconsistent with WTO principles. It is
difficult for China to find a defence to justify this situation.
Among the above six cases, China has settled four of them by
concluding memorandums (DS387, DS380 and DS389; DS489)
and the other two are pending in the process of consultation
(DS450 and DS451). Based on the results in the above four
cases, it is likely that China will use the same strategy to
settle the final two cases through memorandums. Thus, it is
difficult for China to defend itself when more than one
hundred central and local legal instruments are claimed to
violate WTO rules by other WTO members.
China Grants, Loans and Other Incentives Request for
Consultations by Mexico (9 January 2009) WT/DS388/1, G/L/880,
G/SCM/D82/1 and G/AG/GEN/80. WTO, China Grants, Loans
and Other Incentives Request for Consultations by Guatemala
(22 January 2009) WT/DS390/1, G/L/882, G/SCM/D83/1 and
G/AG/GEN/82. WTO, China Certain Measures Affecting
Automobile and Automobile-Parts Industries (20 September
2012) WT/DS450/1, G/L/1002 and G/SCM/D93/1. WTO, China
Measures Relating to the Production and Exportation of Apparel
and Textile Products Request for Consultations by Mexico (18
October 2012) WT/DS451/1, G/L/1004, G/SCM/D94/1 and
G/AG/GEN/103.
176 SLJ 7 (1)
III. Integrating Conformity with WTO Principles into
China’s Legal System
China ensures that its domestic laws, regulations, rules, and
other measures are in conformity with WTO norms by
focusing on the supervision and modification of
inconsistencies in its domestic instruments. China has not
implemented a law which integrates WTO norms.
Admittedly, the supervision and revision of conflicting
domestic instruments are very important to ensure the
uniform administration of domestic instruments, which is a
stringent requirement of the WTO. Nevertheless, the most
important way of preventing inconsistencies between
domestic instruments and WTO principles involves more
than the supervision and modification of inconsistencies in
China’s domestic instruments.
Integrating domestic legal instruments with international
legal standards such as WTO principles requires not only the
processes of supervision and modification, but also an
equally important actual law-making process. The relevant
laws on supervision mechanisms in China’s legal system are
restricted to regulating the consistency of China’s domestic
instruments rather than stipulating to what extent the
domestic instruments should be in conformity with WTO
rules and regulations. As a consequence, several legal
loopholes exist. China has established three mechanisms to
ensure the integrity of its central and local legal instruments.
The first mechanism involves the responsibility of higher
entities for maintaining the unity of regulations and rules
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 177
made by lower-level organs through amendment and repeal
of conflicting provisions.68 The second mechanism is to file
laws, regulations, and rules with superior authorities in order
to preclude conflicts among different instruments.69 The third
method to reconcile inconsistencies among domestic
instruments is the review of inconsistent provisions by the
SCNPC.70 Article 99 of the 2015 Legislation Law states that a
number of state authorities including the State Council, the
Supreme People’s Court, Central Military Commission, social
organisations, enterprises, and citizens have the authority to
submit a written request to the SCNPC to review conflicting
instruments.71 However, it does not specify what local
authorities should do if they find that superior laws,
administrative regulations, or ministry rules violate WTO
principles. Yet the Protocol declares that China is supposed
to establish a complaints mechanism allowing individuals
and enterprises to notify the national authorities of non-
uniform application of the trade regime.72
However, local authorities cannot notify national authorities
about WTO-inconsistent laws, regulations, or ministry rules
passed by the central organs through this complaints
mechanism, because this complaints mechanism is
68 Article 97 of the 2015 Legislation Law.
69 See Article 98 of the 2015 Legislation Law.
70 Jianfu Chen, Chinese Law: Context and Transformation (Brill
Nijhoff 2015) (n 6) 263.
71 Article 99 of the 2015 Legislation Law.
72 Section 2(A)(4) of the Protocol.
178 SLJ 7 (1)
specifically for individuals and enterprises. China lacks a
specific complaints mechanism through which local organs
may notify the authorities of WTO-inconsistent legal
instruments made by higher-level organs.
Even certain Chinese regulations that stipulate its accession
to the WTO do not integrate conformity with WTO norms
into China’s domestic instruments. Instead, they are limited
to highlighting the importance of the integrity of domestic
instruments. For example, China published the Ordinance on
the Archives Filing of Regulations and Government Rules in
order to prepare for its participation in the WTO (the
Ordinance). 73The Ordinance only demonstrates how to
reconcile inconsistencies between superior and inferior
domestic instruments; it does not demonstrate the necessity
of ensuring the conformity of domestic laws, regulations,
rules, and other measures with WTO norms. For instance,
Article 15 of the Ordinance sets out to resolve inconsistencies
between ministry rules and government rules, and Article 13
explains how to sort out conflicts between local regulations
and ministry rules. 74Neither of them mentions how domestic
legal instruments should comply with WTO principles. China
has also issued certain regulations which declare the
importance of ensuring that domestic instruments comply
73 Ordinance on the Archives Filing of Regulations and
Governance Rules, Order No. 337 of the State Council of the
People's Republic of China (1 January 2002)
&lib=law> accessed 12 April 2020.
74 Article 15 of the Ordinance.
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 179
with the WTO Agreement. However, the legislations’
content largely focuses on the modification of the WTO-
inconsistent domestic instruments without indicating that
central and local instruments should comply with the WTO
Agreement in the law-making process. For instance, the
Opinion on Cleaning the Local Regulations, Local
Government Rules and Other Policy Measures to Adapt to
China’s Accession to the WTO simply mentions that China is
to maintain the integrity of its domestic instruments with the
WTO Agreement, and that the pertinent organs need to clean
up any WTO-inconsistent provisions. It also articulates that
the contents and requirements of the instruments need to be
revised or abolished as necessary.75
Furthermore, this is confirmed by related local government
rules for the implementation of the Opinion on Cleaning the
Local Regulations, Local Government Rules and Other Policy
Measures to Adapt to China’s Accession to the WTO. These
local government rules include Articles II and III of the
Ningbo City Opinion on Cleaning the Local Regulations,
Local Governmental Rules and Other Policy Measures to
Adapt to China’s Accession to the WTO and Article V of the
75 The Central Office of the Communist Party of China and the
Central Office of the State Council Opinion on Cleaning the
Local Regulations, Local Government Rules and Other Policy
Measures to Adapt to China’s Accession to the WTO, Central
Office of the Communist Party of China and the Central Office
of the State Council, Zhong Ban Fa [2001] No.22 ( 29 October
2001).
180 SLJ 7 (1)
Hubei Province Opinion on Cleaning the Local Regulations,
Local Governmental Rules and Other Policy Measures to
Adapt to China’s Accession to the WTO. 76
The majority of the contents of these documents concentrate
on the amendment of WTO-inconsistent legal provisions.
Although these documents illustrate the uniformity principle
of the WTO Agreement, there is a lack of concrete content
stipulating how to integrate consistency with WTO norms
into the domestic law-making procedure, the supervision
procedure, and the revision procedure at the same time.
Maintenance of the uniformity of WTO principles in the law-
making process is essential to prevent China from adopting
WTO-inconsistent instruments. Based on this point, it is
necessary for China to enact a law or a provision which
specifies the conformity of China’s domestic instruments
with the WTO Agreement in the supervision, revision, and
law-making processes rather than separating these three
procedures.
III. Conclusion
This Article has argued that China’s dispersed law-making
power is an important factor which increases the likelihood
of China’s participation in the WTO DSM. It first examined
76 Ningbo City Opinion on Cleaning the Local Regulations, Local
Governmental Rules and Other Policy Measures to Adapt to
China’s Accession to the WTO, General Office of Ningbo
People’s government, Yong Zheng Ban Fa [2001] No.113 (23
October 2001) http://www.maxlaw.cn/p-wxzscqlvs-
com/artview/811702985175> accessed 12 April 2020.
China’s Law-Making Power on its Participation in the WTO
DSM 181
the reasons why China’s scattered law-making power affects
China’s involvement in WTO disputes through a detailed
analysis of an individual case, China − Demonstration Bases, in
order to explain why a high-level WTO-inconsistent legal
instrument can cause a substantive number of WTO-
inconsistent local instruments upon implementation of this
superior legal instrument. The main reason is undoubtedly
because China’s dispersed law-making power causes
violations of the principle of uniform administration to which
China committed itself in the Protocol. Therefore, it is
important to first acknowledge the significant and
detrimental effects China’s dispersed law-making powers has
on the country’s likely increased participation in the WTO
DSM, and it is vital that solutions to this problem should be
proposed in terms of integrating conformity with WTO
principles into China’s legal system.
182 SLJ 7 (1)
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