BUSH to request one-year extension in China trade status

Wednesday, May 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ President Bush will ask Congress this week to grant a one-year extension of China's normal trade relations.

``When we open trade, we open minds,'' he told the Los Angeles World Affairs Council on Tuesday. ``Open trade is a force for freedom in China, a force for stability in Asia and a force for prosperity in the United States.''

He said he would tell Congress on Friday that he intends to extend normal trade relation status with China for another year.

The announcement was not a surprise because Bush has long supported trade with Beijing, even during the standoff over a U.S. spy plane that collided with a Chinese jet fighter and made an emergency landing on Chinese territory. Still, his announcement is the first step in what could be another trade battle in Congress.

``I'm sorry that President Bush feels that we should give most-favored-nation status to a country like China which is our most dangerous potential enemy,'' said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a longtime opponent of trade benefits for China.

However, a spokesman for Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the incoming chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he believes Bush's proposal will pass with little difficulty.

After a major fight last year, Congress passed legislation granting China permanent normal trade relations with the United States, scrapping the annual review that Congress had conducted for 20 years over China's trade benefits.

The permanent trade status does not go into effect until China becomes a member of the World Trade Organization, however, and that has been delayed for months by an inability of negotiators to complete final details in Geneva, Switzerland.

For that reason, the administration was forced to ask Congress to approve another year's extension of China's trade privileges, which set tariffs on Chinese products at the same low levels as virtually every other U.S. trading partner's.

``Free trade supports and sustains freedoms in all its forms. Free trade has expanded the portion of China's economy that is independent of the state. Free trade has swelled the ranks of the independent businesspeople,'' Bush said. ``Free trade has introduced new technologies that offer Chinese people access to uncensored information and democratic ideas.''

Bush renewed his appeal for Congress to give him authority to negotiate free-trade pacts that can be approved or rejected by lawmakers, not changed. He singled out Chile and Singapore as countries worthy of trade deals with the United States.

The annual debate over China's trade status is used by opponents of U.S.-China engagement to object publicly to various Chinese policies from human rights to Taiwan.

The fight this year could prove even more challenging for the administration given lingering unhappiness in Congress over China's handling of the crew of a U.S. spy plane. It also is complicated by Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords' decision to leave the Republican Party, which will throw control of the Senate to Democrats.