Congressional battle over China expected to be intense

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The Independent Online

President Bill Clinton is pledging an all-out effort to win congressional approval of a major market-opening trade agreement with China. Judging from the strong negative reaction from US labour groups, he will have to make good on that promise.

President Bill Clinton is pledging an all-out effort to win congressional approval of a major market-opening trade agreement with China. Judging from the strong negative reaction from US labour groups, he will have to make good on that promise.

Teamsters union president James P. Hoffa denounced the pact as a "slap in the face not only to workers in America, but to their counterparts in China." John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation, called it a "grave mistake."

"It is disgustingly hypocritical of the Clinton administration to pledge to 'put a human face on the global economy' while prostrating itself in pursuit of a trade deal with a rogue nation," Sweeney said in a statement.

The American Textile Manufacturers Association, an industry trade group, estimated that the trade deal with China will cost 150,000 US jobs in the textile and apparel industries, two sectors that face heavy competition from Chinese imports.

But to the Clinton administration and many other American business groups, the agreement reached in Beijing on Monday offers the prospect of boosting sales of American manufactured goods, farm products, movies and financial services by lowering barriers that have prevented U.S. access to the world's most populous country.

"This is a major breakthrough for American companies and their workers, offering hundreds of millions of potential new customers," said Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers.

In return for China lowering barriers on American products, the United States will agree to support China's 13-year quest to become a member of the 135-nation World Trade Organization, the Geneva-based organization that sets the rules for world trade.

But US labor unions see China's entry into the WTO as a further threat to American workers because the United States no longer would be able to unilaterally impose trade sanctions on China for unfair trading practices. Instead, America would have to take any cases before the WTO for a ruling.

In addition, for the United States to receive the trade benefits China is offering, Congress will have to change the law that now subjects China to an annual review of its trade status with the United States.

This yearly vote on the tariff rates that America imposes on China has been used as a referendum by congressional critics of China's policies in such areas as human rights, religious freedom, Taiwan, nuclear espionage and weapons proliferation.

"I will do my best working with other countries to gain China's entry into the WTO and undertake an all-out effort to work with our Congress to secure permanent trade relations with China," Clinton told reporters Monday in Ankara, Turkey.

Patrick Buchanan, who is seeking the presidential nomination of the Reform Party, pledged to make the China deal an issue in the presidential contest.

"This is the latest administration capitulation to Beijing at the expense of working American families and for the benefit of transnational corporations," Buchanan said. "I will fight it with everything I have right through to November 2000."

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who is one of China's most vocal congressional critics, said she was concerned that the Clinton administration was rushing to get a deal without worrying enough about how China's promises to reduce trade barriers will be enforced.

"I fear that this is an attempt by the Clinton administration to get a deal at any price in order to cover up its failed China policy which has not made the trade fairer or the people freer or the world safer," she said.

The administration, however, hopes congressional approval of the agreement will provide tangible evidence of the success of its policy of "constructive engagement" with a country that is expected to have the world's largest economy early in the next century.

Various business groups praised the administration's efforts and pledged to mount an aggressive lobbying campaign next year to win the needed congressional approval of permanent normal trade benefits for China.

"The agreement to bring China into the World Trade Organization creates an enormous opportunity for American workers and farmers to build a better future for themselves and their families," said Philip Condit, head of aircraft maker Boeing Co., the biggest US exporter to China.

Two of the strongest congressional supporters of increased commercial ties with China, Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, and Rep. David Dreier, a California Republican, both predicted a tough battle next year.

"It is up to those who support this to convince Congress that it is good for our economy and good for jobs," Baucus said.