- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2000

The Senate is poised to vote on whether or not to grant China Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR), a status that we offer to over 90 percent of our trading partners worldwide. It will be one of the most important votes the 106th Congress makes. China has already agreed to several important trade concessions in order to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) and will become a member of this world organization whether the United States grants PNTR status or not.
How Congress votes will only dictate whether the United States can take advantage of the concessions that all other WTO members will enjoy, whether we allow our businesses to benefit from China's increasingly prosperous market of more than 1 billion consumers and in turn allow American principles to influence the Chinese market. The economic choice is an obvious one; Congress should grant PNTR status to China.
By granting PNTR, American business will enjoy significantly lower tariffs when selling products in China. Tariffs on priority agricultural products will drop from the 1997 average of 31 percent to 15 percent by 2004. Overall industrial tariffs will be lowered from the 1997 average of 25 percent to 9 percent by 2005, and information technology products such as computers and semiconductors, which are major growth sectors in the U.S. economy, will face no tariffs at all.
Perhaps even more beneficial than tariff reductions, China has pledged to allow foreign firms to operate in many sectors of its economy now closed to them. Product distribution, insurance and banking are just some of the markets in which U.S. firms will be able to do business. In addition, the telecommunications sector will be greatly liberalized, allowing foreign firms to invest in and provide services for paging, mobile and cellular phones. China has also agreed to put in place import surge protections to shield U.S. manufacturers from the financial damage that can result from rapidly increasing import competition and to abide by other rules to protect firms in the United States from dumping by Chinese firms.
Approving PNTR assures that all concessions made by the Chinese apply to the United States. On the other hand, if the United States does not grant China PNTR, it will be in violation of WTO rules which require that each member unconditionally grant equal tariff treatment to all other members. If this situation occurs, China will not be obligated to extend to the United States any trade concessions besides lower tariffs.
American firms will be locked out of fast-growing sectors such as telecommunications, while their European and Japanese rivals will begin to develop long-lasting trade ties. The United States will be denied the increased export markets and important protections for domestic industries that all other WTO member countries will enjoy.
In my home state of Florida, exports to China have grown significantly since China lowered its trade barriers. Florida's exports to China have more than doubled, growing 146 percent between 1993 and 1998, creating thousands of new jobs. This trend will only continue as China lowers tariffs on manufactured goods, such as chemical products, and removes burdensome restrictions on agriculture, especially for citrus.
Free trade benefits everyone. It enhances prosperity and develops markets essential elements to the spread of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. China's entry into the World Trade Organization will enhance American competitiveness, further our national interests and benefit our trading partners. But we must enter into this agreement with our eyes open. China must comply with this agreement for it to have meaning. The United States must vigilantly seek enforcement of all agreements with China, including those addressing human rights and national security.
The PNTR vote will be one of the most historically significant decisions of this Congress. The economics are clear granting PNTR will be good for businesses and consumers in the United States and China. Ensuring compliance may prove difficult, but we should not shy away from that challenge in light of the enormous opportunity that increased trade represents for our two nations.

Sen. Connie Mack, Florida Republican, is chairman of the Joint Economic Committee.

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