- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2000

Republican leaders say a bill normalizing trade relations with China could be jeopardized by premature efforts to push it through Congress before China's entry into the World Trade Organization this spring.

President Clinton is pushing for the earliest possible approval of the legislation, and is planning to make a pitch in his State of the Union address for moving swiftly to seal the market-opening deal he reached with China last fall after 13 years of negotiations under various administrations.

But Republican leaders say before they bring the bill to the House floor, where a tough fight is expected, they first want to see China complete negotiations with the European Union on the terms of its entry into the WTO. Those talks could yield further concessions by China beyond the inroads it granted the United States into its farm, insurance and other markets.

The talks with the European Union and other details of China's protocol of accession to the WTO will not be known before May or June, and that is the earliest possible time for a vote, Republican aides said.

"The problem with doing it before then is it makes the chances of passing much more difficult. For political reasons, we don't want to go too early or too late," said Rich Mills, spokesman for Rep. David Dreier, chairman of the House Rules Committee. The California Republican is spearheading efforts to pass the China trade bill in the House.

"China is still negotiating other bilateral agreements that have an effect on the end result," he said. "It will be hard to pass the bill without having those details settled. Opponents will will say we're giving China carte blanche."

Commerce Secretary William M. Daley, the administration's lead lobbyist on the trade legislation, yesterday repeated the president's call for a vote right away. He reflected the nervousness among administration and business backers of the China trade deal that waiting will only make the task harder.

"Everyone seems to want it sooner rather than later," Mr. Daley said after a Cabinet meeting with President Clinton. "Every day that goes by and we get closer to a November election, it gets much more difficult, much more complicated."

The AFL-CIO and other labor and environmental groups strongly oppose the bill, and have vowed to defeat it the same way they derailed efforts to launch a round of world trade negotiations in Seattle last month.

A growing faction of Republicans who are concerned about China's flagrant violations of human rights and ambitious military plans also oppose any move to normalize trade with China.

The bill granting permanent normal trade relations to China is the primary concession China won from the United States in exchange for dramatically cutting tariffs on a wide variety of goods and opening its markets to U.S. exports of agricultural, financial and other products. Currently, China is granted that status only after a vote of Congress every year.

While opponents are promising a bitter fight this year, Mr. Mills and other top Republican aides said getting approval of the trade bill could be easier than previous annual renewal bills because of the many concessions China made in its efforts to join the WTO.

"It's a different dynamic," Mr. Mills said. "Before, every year the vote was on giving access to the U.S. market. This vote is on whether we get access to their markets."

Another Republican aide scoffed at attempts by the labor unions to make the China trade deal into a political litmus test.

When legislators visited their districts over the holidays, "nobody mentioned China," said this aide. "This doesn't affect the guy on the street that much, though labor may spend a lot of time and energy on it."

In addition, American farmers and businesses stand to make tremendous gains under the trade agreement, and they will be working hard to defuse labor's opposition, he said.

"This is a home run for farmers," he said. "Here's an agreement that opens up the largest pork-eating market in the world."

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