- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 1999

 U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky may have gone all out to clinch an agreement in Beijing with China on membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), but unfortunately it’s not a done deal. Before we get that far, a lot of domestic players in this country will want to have a say in the matter. Add to that the fact that we are entering an election year. Nor is Congress, apparently, in any hurry to place the vote on permanent Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status for China on the calendar for its next session. U.S.-China relations, rocky already, could be in for some more turbulence.

 Republican candidates debating in Iowa Monday evening had all sorts of interesting opinions to offer on the topics of China, the WTO and, of course, the Iowa farmer. (The good news is that the two main contenders stand firmly in favor of trade.)

 From Sen. Orrin Hatch we got a little review of China’s progress in the ‘70s, ‘80s, early ‘90s and late ‘90s. “The difference … is so stark,” he said. The best way to undermine that police state is to “not isolate China and have them withdraw, but bring them into the WTO.” And he added, thoughtfully, “that will help Iowa farmers,” too.

 Gov. Bush concurred. “That’s why we let them in the WTO. That’s part of agreement keeping… And let me tell you something. The amount of corn that will be moved if China gets into the WTO will rise from 250,000 yes metric tons to 7.2 million metric tons. Opening up Chinese markets is good for Iowa farmers.”

 Sen. John McCain agreed, “The people in Beijing and Bangkok and Paris will be eating Iowa pork, and they’ll love every minute of it, when I’m president of the United States.” (French, take notice.)

 Gary Bauer, on the contrary, fumed at trading with China. “I will stop allowing China to play us for suckers.” Not forgetting where he was either, Mr. Bauer said that “Iowa farmers are selling less to China now than they did 10 years ago.”

 Alan Keyes, could be counted on to provide colorful hyperbole and an unexpected angle. The question is not, he said, “whether China should belong to the World Trade Organization. I think the question is whether the United States should belong to an organization that violates every constitutional principle.” (Big round of applause.)

 Amazingly, publisher Steve Forbes outdid Mr. Keyes, comparing “WTO … to a woolly mammoth without the charm.” He then reminded everyone that he has proposed a North Atlantic free trade agreement with Ireland and Britain, Australia, New Zealand and others, forgetting perhaps that Ireland has spent the better part of a century fighting everything coming from Britain.

 If Republican presidential challengers are all over the map, the incumbent Democratic administration is, as they say these days, “conflicted.” Vice President Al Gore, champion of free trade that he is supposed to be, has said nary a word on China and the WTO.

 And President Clinton’s position is becoming rather blurred. You might say that his right legacy does not know what his left legacy is doing. Mr. Clinton wanted to be remembered as a free trade and technology crusader, charging boldly across that “bridge to the 21st century.” But he would also like to see Mr. Gore elected president, as an affirmation of his own two terms. Unfortunately for Mr. Clinton, the two goals are now mutually exclusive at least if Mr. Gore needs to rely on the AFL-CIO, which he undoubtedly does.

 The labor unions have sworn to fight China’s membership in the WTO with all they’ve got. It will be recalled that the unions were furious over the North American Free Trade Agreement concluded under Clinton-Gore leadership and basically sat out the 1994 election, which gave Republicans both houses of Congress.

 Mindful of it all, Mr. Clinton’s team in Seattle was instructed to press for the inclusion of labor and environmental standards while blocking discussion of U.S. anti-dumping regulations, which turns the whole concept of trade talks on its head. To the consternation of the delegates, Mr. Clinton himself told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that he was in favor of eventually imposing sanctions against countries that violate international labor standards. That is when the, er, mess hit the fan.

 ”We were disappointed,” so Liu Xiaoming, deputy chief of mission at the Chinese Embassy told editors of The Washington Times last week. “It is a big concern.” The Chinese (and other developing countries) fear that Americans “will use labor requirements as a protectionist measure.” Indeed. That’s the whole idea.

 The first test, as Mr. Liu pointed out, will be the vote on permanent MFN. If it passes, it will be on the strength of the business lobby and the solid core of free-trade believers in the Republican Party. It most certainly will not be because of the efforts of the White House.

 E-mail:bering@washtimes.com

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