Senate Approves China Trade Bill

Wednesday, September 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress has come down solidly in favor of trade and engagement with China in historic legislation that President Clinton says will promote prosperity in America and freedom in China.

In a decisive 83-15 vote, the Senate on Tuesday approved permanent normal trade status for China, laying the framework for a new trade arrangement under which China is to open its doors to American businesses and investors.

The legislation, which Clinton and others have praised as the most positive development in U.S.-China relations since President Nixon's visit to Beijing in 1972, now goes to the White House for the president's signature.

The granting of permanent trade status will end the annual review of U.S.-China trade relations that has been a source of contention between the two countries. Approval also sets the stage for China's entry into the World Trade Organization. With WTO entry later this year or early next year, China is committed to opening its markets and drastically cutting tariffs on American and other imports.

In return for normal trade relations,'' Clinton said, ``China will open its markets to American products, from wheat to cars to consulting services, and we will be far more able to sell goods in China without moving our factories there.''

He added that new trade status and WTO membership could affect the Chinese far more profoundly. ``Our high-tech companies will help to speed the information revolution there. Outside competition will speed the demise of China's huge state industries and spur the enterprise of private sector involvement. They will diminish the role of government in people's daily lives.''

But detractors, led by labor, human rights and conservative groups, said it was wrong to sacrifice trade as a policy tool that could help force China to stop proliferating weapons and start improving its human rights record.

``The signal we send by granting PNTR (permanent normal trade relations) now is a signal of abject weakness. It is a signal of greed. It is a signal of ambivalence on the issue of nonproliferation,'' said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.

Roger W. Chastain, president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, said China's entry in the WTO could cost 150,000 U.S. textile-related jobs but ``will do nothing to change China's outlaw behavior.''

The legislation calls for a congressional-executive commission to monitor human rights in China and creates a so-called surge mechanism to help American industries and workers hurt by an increase in Chinese imports.

China welcomed the Senate vote as a boon to economic and political relations with the United States but objected to the creation of a commission to monitor Chinese human rights practices.

The legislation contains ``certain clauses that are irrelevant to trade and are intended for interfering in the internal affairs of China and harming China's interests,'' Hu Chusheng, a Trade Ministry spokesman, said in remarks carried by the government news agency, Xinhua.

Most business and farm groups and their political allies were strongly behind the legislation. PNTR, said U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue, ``opens China's markets, brings China into a rules-based trading system and promotes peace and stability in Asia.''

By some estimates, the agreement would boost annual U.S. exports by about $13 billion in five years, cutting into China's current $68 billion surplus. American farm exports could jump by $2 billion a year.

``We have grain piled up everywhere in this state, a near-record harvest on the way, and we need buyers,'' Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson said in a statement. ``Opening a huge new market like China is crucial for Wisconsin farmers.''

Equally important, under WTO rules China would have to give U.S. businesses full rights of distribution, open the nation to American financial and service industries and allow U.S. investment in Chinese telecommunications services.

Both presidential candidates, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, support permanent trade status with China.


The bill is H.R. 4444.

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