- The Washington Times - Friday, December 10, 1999

The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has issued a blunt warning to members of Congress following the meltdown of the Seattle trade talks last week: Any opposition to admitting China into the World Trade Organization will come at a heavy political price.
Congress will vote this spring just months before the November congressional and presidential elections on whether to grant China permanent normal trading status to clear the way for its long-sought admission to the WTO.
The debate is shaping up as a huge brawl between business and labor and environmental groups that will put wavering members under intense political pressure.
Chamber President Thomas Donohue said the powerful business lobby sees the China vote as critical to the U.S. economy and strongly implied that the chamber would withdraw campaign contributions and other political support from members who vote against it.
“If you’re absent on this China vote, it’s going to get very expensive politically,” he said.
“If you decide that this is the place where you’re going to cost this nation dearly with regard to national security and the national economy,” Mr. Donohue said, then members voting no “may find the 2000 elections more cumbersome than they thought.”
“This is not a free vote,” Mr. Donohue added at a Wednesday briefing for reporters. “You make this vote at your own peril.”
Chamber officials have identified 66 congressional districts that they consider possible swing votes and will target with a grass-roots business campaign to push the China pact. The members in these districts are neither totally pro- nor totally anti-free trade.
“This is not something we started focusing on after Seattle. We have been working on this for six months,” said David Hirschmann, the chamber’s vice president. “This is probably one of the largest efforts the chamber has started in a good, long while.”
Said Willard Workman, the chamber’s international-trade specialist, “This is no air war here, just going on the airwaves with ads. This will be district by district, in the streets. This is going to be won.”
Chamber officials would not say how much money they intend to spend swaying the 435 members of Congress.
The Clinton administration recently concluded an agreement widely viewed as favorable to U.S. business interests under which China will begin to open its huge markets as a quid pro quo for U.S. support for its WTO admission.
Congressional approval of China’s admission into the WTO was not considered in real danger until last week, when protests by labor and environmental groups on the streets of Seattle preceded a collapse of the widely touted talks among the WTO’s 135 member nations to start a new round of trade liberalization.
The groups, joined by human rights advocates, want labor and environmental standards incorporated into any new trade agreements, and many consider China a top violator in each instance.
Unions have made their opposition to China’s WTO admission clear already. “It’s a very, very important and consequential fight for working people around the country,” said Peggy Taylor, legislative director for the AFL-CIO in Washington.
“Exactly how we’re going to target it and what methods we’ll use are very much under discussion in the labor movement,” she said. “But we are coming out of Seattle with a change in the public understanding of what’s at stake in these trade fights, and I think the China WTO will be a really important event in that regard.”
So far, labor has won the grass-roots campaigns on trade, and the AFL-CIO’s Mrs. Taylor dismissed the chamber’s latest threat.
“I don’t question that this is a high priority for the business community and they’ll throw a lot of resources into it,” she said. “I’m just not overwhelmed by their saying they’re about to be out with a big grass-roots campaign, because I’ve heard this too many times from them.”
Democrats are split on trade, with centrist “New Democrats” strongly in favor of liberalization.
Seattle represents environmental and labor groups’ latest and largest victory in a campaign that has been steadily gaining momentum.
In 1997, unions and environmentalists dealt an enormous blow to the Clinton administration when Congress failed to approve the administration’s request for “fast-track” trade-negotiating authority. That authority allows the president to negotiate deals with Congress able only to vote yes or no to the deals, not amend them.
Mr. Donohue argued that China will be different, because the China pact offers tangible and specific benefits, promising a host of U.S. industries increased access to China’s enormous market.
“Are they going to deny that to the e-commerce people? Are they going to deny it to the bank people, to the agriculture people, to the car people and their workers, to the telephone people?” he asked.
Rep. Cal Dooley, California Democrat, agreed, adding that 110 out of 205 Democrats voted this year for renewing China’s normal trade status formerly called most favored nation and predicting that next year’s China vote would hold 80 to 90 of those votes.
While conceding that unions and environmentalists have picked up momentum, he said Seattle also served as “a call to arms for more pro-trade forces, too.”
“There was a fairly high level of complacency among constituent groups that support our engagement with China. And after what took place in the streets of Seattle, I think pro-trade factions really fully understand that they have to be engaged in making the case to members and to the American people on why we should welcome China into the WTO.”

Staff writer Timothy Burn contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide