- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2000

The Senate yesterday overwhelmingly approved historic legislation that will expand commercial ties with China and end annual congressional reviews of the Asian giant's trade status that have produced much bluster but little action.
By a decisive 83-15 margin, senators adopted the bill without changing the version approved by the House in May, clearing the way for swift approval by President Clinton without the usual House-Senate conference.
"This is one for the history books," said Sen. Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who helped lead the fight for the trade bill.
Sen. William V. Roth Jr., the Delaware Republican who heads the Finance Committee, called the vote "a defining moment in the history of this chamber and in the history of our country."
Mr. Clinton, who pushed aggressively for the bill, welcomed its passage, a top legislative priority in his last year in office. The vote proved to be a major test of his leadership that had divided Democrats from a key constituency, organized labor, as Vice President Al Gore struggled to invigorate his presidential campaign.
"This landmark agreement will extend economic prosperity at home and promote economic freedom in China, increasing the prospects for openness in China and a more peaceful future for all of us," Mr. Clinton said.
The trade legislation will extend China permanent normal trade relations, a status that, under current law, is renewed on an annual basis and subject to congressional review. It extends to China the same tariff treatment accorded all but a handful of "rogue" nations such as Iraq, Cuba and North Korea.
The change, which abolishes the summer votes that had become an occasion to debate every aspect of Sino-American relations, will also smooth the way for China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). It also opens the Chinese market to a broad array of American goods and services under a trade agreement negotiated by the United States last year.
To smooth passage in the House, backers also included provisions to guard against sudden surges in Chinese imports and to create a commission to monitor China's dismal human rights record.
The bill will go into effect once China wraps up final WTO negotiations and formally enters the Geneva-based international commercial court, probably early next year.
Voting against the bill were seven Democrats and eight Republicans. Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut did not vote.
Sen. Robert Byrd, West Virginia Democrat who opposed the bill, said the Senate made "a grave mistake" by rewarding a government that has been repressing religion "and generally behaving like the Bobby Knight of the international community."
Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, called the bill ill-advised and said Congress should be dealing with Communist China by stressing moral and spiritual principles instead of pursuing "the hope of trade at any cost."
The House passed the trade legislation in May by a margin of 235-195 after a bitter debate. Senate approval was never in doubt, but passage without amendments was not a foregone conclusion.
Senators last week turned back the most serious challenge to the bill, an amendment on weapons proliferation sponsored chiefly by Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican. Backers of the legislation defeated many other amendments as well, arguing that the House would refuse to hold another vote on the China trade bill if the Senate amended it, effectively killing the legislation until the next Congress.
"It has been a long process, but every senator has had an opportunity to have his or her say," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican. "All things considered, trade is in our interest."
The House vote was marked by a massive campaign coordinated from the White House and heavy lobbying and campaign contributions by major corporations and business groups. Organized labor, along with a diverse set of allies from the right and left, responded in kind with aggressive pressure tactics that many observers believe ultimately backfired.
These groups largely wrote off the Senate, which has a history of strong support for trade-liberalizing measures.
Despite supporters' jubilation at having won a monthslong campaign to pass the legislation, Mr. Baucus also cautioned that having China in the WTO would not be a panacea for Sino-American commercial disputes, nor would it ensure improvements in human rights and weapons-proliferation disputes.
"China is still a volatile country, a country struggling to find its future," Mr. Baucus said. "There is still a major battle in the Chinese leadership between the forces of reform and the forces of reaction."
Business groups, aware of China's atrocious record in complying with international agreements, also warned that future administrations would have to be vigilant in extracting the full benefits of the WTO agreement from China.
"This is just the beginning of the work we need to do to make sure China's obligations as a member of the WTO are fully implemented and enforced," said Calman Cohen, president of the Emergency Committee for American Trade, an organization of major corporations.
Tacitly conceding that forcing China to live up to the agreement will be a major challenge, the Clinton administration announced a plan earlier this year to enforce U.S. rights under the pact.

Copyright © 2018 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