Beijing, April 8 (Reuters): China has responded to a request by the US and Europe to take part in WTO consultations over auto part tariff rules, the commerce ministry said on Saturday.
China's commissioner to the World Trade Organisation, Sun Zhenyu, has informed the US and EU ambassadors to the body that Beijing has accepted their request to participate in consultations.
'The time and place still have to be decided,' the ministry said in a statement.
In late March, the EU and the US asked China to take part in consultations that would be the first step towards a request for a WTO dispute panel to rule on the issue.
This marked the first time the EU's executive commission had taken China to the WTO since China joined the trade organisation in 2001. It is the second case Washington has brought against Beijing.
China had 10 days to respond to the original request and had to start consultations within 30 days. If the issue cannot be resolved within a further 60 days, the EU and the US may request a WTO panel to hear and rule on the dispute.
The row is the latest in a series of trade disputes that will be high on the agenda when President Hu Jintao meets George Bush in Washington on April 20.
Brussels and Washington want Beijing to change certain tariff policies that they say hinder Western automakers and car parts suppliers in China, one of the world's biggest auto markets.
Carmakers have flocked to China to set up joint ventures to make vehicles, including Ford Motor and General Motors of the US and Europe's Peugeot-Citroen, Volkswagen and Fiat.
China considers parts a 'whole vehicle' if they account for 60 per cent or more of the value of the final vehicle and charges a higher tariff on them.
EU and US officials have said that the rule appears designed to help Chinese car parts makers.
US motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson opened its first authorised dealership in China on Saturday amid hopes its rumbling bikes will strike a chord with the wealthy Chinese. But the Wisconsin-based company has acknowledged ownership curbs on motorbikes in most Chinese cities could mean a slow journey in the fast growing nation.
'We're taking a long-term market perspective with China,' David Foley, who oversees the firm's China operations, told Reuters Television on the sidelines of an opening ceremony.