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US and EU haul China into WTO over news noose

'Stock quotes want to be free'

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The US and European Union have filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization protesting regulations imposed by China that prevent foreign financial news services from dealing directly with Chinese customers.

Instead, services such as Dow Jones, Reuters and Blomberg are required to distribute stock prices, news reports and other financial information through the Chinese government news agency known as Xinhua. The agency has its own financial news unit that competes with the foreign services, an arrangement that creates a "severe competitive disadvantage," US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in The New York Times.

The regulations prevent foreign services from dealing directly with customers or potential customers in China. That means they can only solicit new business by going through their Chinese competitor, US and EU representatives complain.

The complaint is the latest to argue that China has illegally closed its markets to foreign business. The Bush administration has already charged the Chinese government with restricting the flow of American movies, music and software into its borders and then failing to enforce laws against piracy. In December, China responded to one complaint by suspending imports of films for Chinese consumers.

China's restrictions on financial news services have been in effect since 2006. Similar regulations had been enacted in 1996, but they were lifted a year later.

Western diplomats have raised the restrictions with their Chinese counterparts several times, including at the EU/China summit in Nov. 2007. Monday's action by the US and EU provides for 60 days of negotiations between the parties. If no agreement is reached, a panel could be convened to issue a ruling. ®

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