U.S. Senate to Pass China Pact After Long Delay

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Sunday September 17 8:42 AM ET

U.S. Senate to Pass China Pact After Long Delay


By Adam Entous

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After months of delay, the U.S. Senate is poised to give final approval to legislation granting permanent normal trade relations to China in a historic vote fulfilling one of President Clinton's last foreign policy objectives.

The hotly contested trade bill is expected to garner overwhelming support in Tuesday's vote, in a victory for business groups eager to tap the vast Chinese marketplace, potentially the world's largest with 1.3 billion consumers.

The final hurdle was cleared last week when senators rejected a controversial plan to impose sanctions on China for its alleged role in weapons proliferation and defeated other amendments urging Beijing to improve its human rights record.

Had any amendments been adopted by the Senate, the trade bill would have been sent back to a bitterly divided House of Representatives. The House approved permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) for China in May, but was unlikely to do so again so close to the November election, lawmakers said.

Clinton has made passage of the trade bill one of his top legislative priority for his final year in office.

Once approved by the Senate and signed into law by the president, the legislation would end the 20-year-old annual ritual of reviewing China's trade status and guarantee Chinese goods the same low-tariff access to the U.S. market as products from nearly every other nation.

In exchange for the benefits, China has agreed to open a wide range of markets to U.S. businesses under the terms of an agreement setting the stage for Beijing to join the Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO) later this year.

The White House and its allies in the trade fight argued that China's accession to the WTO would benefit the U.S. economy and national security by encouraging Beijing to open its markets and eventually its political system.

``Passage of PNTR helps increase the probability of a much more stable relationship and greater dialogue with China,'' said Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, a vocal supporter of the trade bill.

But labor unions, a key Democratic constituency, warned that closer trade ties could cost hundreds of thousands of American workers their jobs, as Chinese goods flood the U.S. market and companies move their factories to China to take advantage of lower wages.

Other opponents warned that the bill would exacerbate an already huge U.S. trade deficit with China, and reward a communist regime that lawmakers accused of proliferating weapons of mass destruction and threatening Taiwan.

Despite vocal opposition, there was never much doubt about the outcome in the Senate, where free-trade initiatives typically garner bipartisan support.

Sixty-nine senators said in a Reuters poll they would support permanent normal trade relations, more than enough to override a vote-blocking filibuster and ensure final passage in the 100-member chamber.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), September 17, 2000

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