- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 1999

Anti-World Trade Organization protests in Seattle last week are expected to trigger a backlash against trade in Congress next month, making more difficult China’s bid to win coveted permanent normal-trade-relations (NTR) status.
While analysts expect China to eventually win congressional support, they say it will be an uphill battle.
“It will become tougher,” said James R. Lilley, former ambassador to China. “I still say it’s the right thing to do.”
White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart told reporters yesterday it was hard to predict if the controversy surrounding the Seattle trade talks would have serious ramifications for permanent NTR formerly called most-favored-nation status for China.
“We’re going to go and make a very strong case to Congress, and I expect many elements of this country to make the case, whether it be the business community or others, that this is something that’s in our interest … it’s in the best interests of our future economic well-being and keeping the expansion going and keeping the prosperity that we all enjoy going,” Mr. Lockhart said.
Chinese accession to the 135-nation WTO was expected to dominate the world trade talks last week but quickly became overshadowed by demonstrations against the trade body. More than 30,000 protesters converged on downtown Seattle over a myriad of issues, ranging from concerns over labor and human rights to preserving the environment.
The talks concluded Friday without an agreement among allegations that President Clinton told U.S. negotiators to pull the plug on the troubled talks.
Mr. Lockhart said the Seattle talks were suspended when a “decision was made that it wasn’t productive to move forward.” He said the move was a “team” recommendation.
“I think that we have an interest for this nation, for American businesses, American workers, American families for free trade. We believe that the rest of the world has an interest. The question is how do we move from mutual self-interest to a complex trade agreement? … That’s the process that’s ongoing.”
Alan Tonelson of the U.S. Business and Industry Council, an organization that favors domestic economies over world trade, said few members of Congress would be willing to grant China permanent NTR in the light of the demonstrations.
“With the black eye that corporate-driven trade policy got at the WTO meeting, it’s going to persuade a lot of fence-sitting congressmen this is something we don’t want to go on the record for,” he said.
Working against Beijing will be a spotty record on enforcing existing agreements and a recent accord signed between the United States and China for Chinese accession to the WTO that still favors China, Mr. Tonelson said.
The Clinton administration has “a bad story to tell and they don’t have a particularly good WTO deal to advertise,” he said.
Still, analysts expect China eventually would get permanent NTR status, if only because Congress wouldn’t want American businesses to lose out on opportunities afforded by the large Chinese market, like lower wages and a consumer base of 1.2 billion people.
“I think, at the end of the day, no member of Congress is going to deny U.S. business and U.S. workers access to the market,” said Willard Workman, vice president-international for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
He also said the Clinton administration is unlikely to suffer long-term consequences from the failed conference.
“The negotiations will go forward despite Seattle,” Mr. Workman said. The United States could negotiate deals with other countries, although he conceded “in broad multilateral efforts, we won’t be making any progress the next 12-18 months.”
Mr. Lockhart also denied suggestions that Mr. Clinton’s ability to further trade talks were undermined by the Seattle problems.
Negotiators are to return next month to Geneva, where the WTO is based, to discuss issues related to agriculture and services.
Analysts said some of the criticisms leveled at the WTO in Seattle were deserved.
“The WTO has been weakened, has been challenged,” Mr. Lilley said. “It’s previous smugness has been shattered and that’s probably a good thing.”

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