On August 16, 2010, the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) announced the State Council’s appointment of Vice Minister of Commerce, Gao Hucheng, as the ministerial-level China International Trade Representative (CITR), Vice Minister of Commerce of Zhong Shan as Assistant Minister of Commerce and Chong Quan as vice ministerial-level deputy CITRs. The mandate for the CITR is to (i) handle important multilateral and bilateral negotiations related to foreign trade and economic matters; (ii) coordinate with domestic Chinese parties to build consensus for developing strong international negotiating positions; and (iii) sign related agreements. Gao Hucheng has extensive experience in handling trade issues. In 2005, he was appointed to handle China’s textile trade frictions with the United States and the European Union. Prior to his move to MOFCOM, Gao Hucheng gained practical trade experience while working for the China National Machinery Import & Export Corporation and serving as vice president at China Resources, the largest trading company in the country during his term. Both politicians and business people value his ability to tackle complex trade issues and expect that he will build upon his experience to handle increasingly complicated international negotiations.

MOFCOM also announced the establishment of the China International Trade Representative Office (CITRO), which will serve as the bureaucratic institution within which the CITR and deputy CITRs will carry out their duties. The specific functions of CITRO and a timeline for establishing the internal workings of the agency will take place gradually in the coming months and years.  

The Chinese government first established CITRO in 2005 and then closed the agency in 2008 during significant restructuring within MOFCOM. Some observers suggest that CITRO has been reopened in light of recent and increasing trade friction with overseas trading partners. MOFCOM spokesman Yao Jian indicated recently that the reopening of CITRO was necessary to: (i) enhance China’s compliance with WTO rules; (ii) improve China’s continuing effort to open its domestic market and participate more fully in the global trading community; (iii) facilitate bilateral and multilateral negotiations with foreign counterparts, including bilateral free trade agreements (FTA); and (iv) facilitate the efforts of Chinese enterprises to invest overseas, and protect the domestic and international interests of Chinese enterprises involved in international trade and investment.