- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2000

The Clinton administration's refusal to make public the details of a landmark trade agreement with China is hampering efforts to win congressional approval for the deal, leading senators said.
"I'm not sure the Finance Committee or the Congress is going to want to go forward [on a vote] without knowing exactly what we're doing here," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, told U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky yesterday.
At a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, Mrs. Barshefsky countered that the administration has made a strong case for the deal and for approval of permanent normal trade relations (NTR) with China without releasing the details of the pact publicly.
"We believe that Congress has before it all that is necessary to adequately provide China with permanent NTR," she told the committee.
Mrs. Barshefsky also revealed that important aspects of agricultural trade with China have not been negotiated.
The details of the U.S.-China trade deal have remained confidential since Mrs. Barshefsky hammered it out in Beijing in November. Members of Congress and selected staff can view the pact, as can members of official trade advisory committees, congressional sources said.
Also at the hearing, Mr. Lott said he will not bring China trade legislation to the floor without an unwavering commitment from President Clinton to get it passed.
"We are not interested in a feckless exercise that produces no result," Mr. Lott told Mrs. Barshefsky at the hearing.
"I am not going to stick my neck out and take up the time of the Senate if you all are not going to get into a war-room status and go all out," he said.
Later, Mr. Lott described his tough words as "a little shot across the bow."
The Clinton administration wants Congress this year to grant China permanent NTR, instead of annual trade status. The change would allow China to enter the World Trade Organization under the deal the United States cut with China in November.
Mr. Clinton will announce today in a speech at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in the District that he is sending NTR legislation to Congress, according to a White House official.
The president is not legally required to give Congress a bill, but the move would send a political signal that the administration is serious about passing permanent NTR for China this year.
Despite Mr. Lott's criticism, most Republican congressional sources said that Mr. Clinton is making an impressive effort to sway wavering members of Congress, especially House Democrats, whose support is key to passage.
Mr. Clinton was scheduled to meet with senators, including Mr. Lott, last night to discuss the issue.
Sen. Max Baucus, an ardent supporter of permanent NTR for China, told Mrs. Barshefsky that his constituents want details of the pact before he votes for it.
"It's a little difficult to vote for an agreement that they can't see," the Montana Democrat said.
Mrs. Barshefsky said that the administration is keeping the details under wraps because it does not want to reduce the pressure on China to open its market more than it already has agreed to for the United States.
Under WTO rules, concessions made to one member are automatically extended to others, and all WTO members must reach individual agreements with China.
So, the United States could benefit from the results of other negotiations, Mrs. Barshefsky said. The deal could get better, she argued, but it will not get worse.
The administration also is reluctant to publicize the details of the agreement because it angered the Chinese when it published the details of Chinese proposals following the collapse of WTO negotiations in April, congressional sources said.
China's ongoing negotiations with other WTO members, particularly the European Union, have highlighted the fact that all the terms of China's entry have not been hammered out.
In particular, China has yet to wrap up talks on how it will abide by the rules WTO members designed to ensure that positive steps, such as the tariff cuts China has promised, are not undermined by other measures, Mrs. Barshefsky said.
For example, China has not agreed to rules limiting how much it can subsidize its farmers and ranchers, she noted.
China has agreed to let in a broad range of American agricultural products, like beef, pork and citrus. But if China subsidizes its own farmers enough, they can produce enough to ensure that imports are never needed.
The administration has told Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, that it is cautiously optimistic that China will refrain from subsidizing its farmers too much, a congressional source said.
Mr. Lott emphasized that agriculture issues need to be settled for the China trade legislation to pass.
"If agriculture is not on board, you can kiss [China NTR] goodbye," he said.
The farm lobby plays a crucial role in passing trade agreements because it can bring political pressure to bear on virtually every member of Congress.

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