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Steelie Neelie batters at China's Great Firewall

Censorship screen also illicit trade barrier, claims EC

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China's Great Firewall is acting as a block to international business and should be tackled by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), according to European Competiton Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

In Shanghai today, she said that the array of technical measures designed by Beijing to stop citizens accessing banned websites was also harming European trade with China.

"It is one of those issues that needs to be tackled within the WTO," Reuters reports she said.

Traditionally trade barriers have been put up by imposing levies on imported goods or by blocking foreign ownership.

Under World Trade Organisation rules, a complaint about a trade barrier merits investigation and possibly dispute resolution procedures, whereby the WTO could impose a legal verdict on the Great Firewall. Because the European Union acts as a bloc at WTO level, Kroes was speaking for all member states today, including the UK.

"I am pushing wherever I can just to get European enterprises a level playing field in China and the other way around. It should be reciprocal," Kroes said.

The Great Firewall blocks access to hundreds of Western websites including news sites, merchants and social networks.

Kroes' statement suggests a new form of diplomatic leverage could be applied by the West against the Great Firewall. China has largely ignored criticism of censorship in human rights terms, notably in the run up to the Beijing Olympics, but attacking its free trade credentials may prove more embarrassing. ®

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