Trade and human rights: Should they be linked?

SUNDAY OUTLOOK

May 29, 1994|By Ted Shelsby

After threatening for months to revoke China's most-favored-nation status because of human rights violations, President Clinton last week reversed himself and removed human rights as an issue in extending the trade agreement for another year. But should international trade issues be linked to -- human rights issues?

Michael H. Jordan

Chairman and CEO, Westinghouse Electric Corp.

I congratulate President Clinton for taking the politically difficult action of renewing MFN. However, we are disappointed that he did not also lift the post-Tiananmen Square sanctions that bar normal trade relations with China.

President Clinton has shown good common sense in delinking trade policy from our nation's global human rights goals. While we all support improving the state of human rights throughout the world, history has repeatedly demonstrated that linking trade with other goals is an ineffective way of promoting these goals.

Changes in a country's human rights practices require long-term internal shifts in cultural values and legal structures. Trade sanctions are much too blunt an instrument for these purposes, and their constant threat destroys the opportunities for building long-term business relationships.

I believe that the participation of the American business and industrial community in the Chinese economy is a positive force for transporting American values and standards to China.

Estrellita Jones

Head of the Asian Department, Amnesty International

Unfortunately, Amnesty International doesn't take a position on linking human rights to international trade.

What we do take a position on is a consistent and clear human rights policy. And the President's decision was kind of the nail in the coffin of not having a consistent policy.

The President had established a policy and he's been moving away from it slowly. Now he has completely moved away from it. It sends a clear message to the Chinese government as well as other governments that his credibility in human rights is mute.

He talks about the importance of human rights and says that he will not walk away from it, but he has no more credibility. It is almost like he has fallen off the horse and now has to scramble to get back on.

William E. Benso

President, Martin Marietta Overseas Corp.

We certainly agree with the administration's decision on extending MFN status to China.

With respect to linking human rights to trade, in a practical sense, it is impossible to delink them.

But the balance of our thought process is that if you extend MFN status you enhance the economic benefits of the people. And by virtue of doing that you are enhancing their standard of living and you are, indirectly, aiding the furthering of their internal rights.

In our minds, improved economic standards within any country go a long way toward liberalization of the rights of the people. Standards of living and liberties kind of march hand in hand.

Barry Brownstein

Associate professor of economics and finance, University of Baltimore

I agree with the president's decision. Generally, I am in favor of a strong free trade policy. Free trade is what opens up government, because it exposes the country to outside influences.

Trade and human rights have a natural link. What has happened throughout the past few decades is that there has been a growing volume of trade in the world and it is the United States' culture that is becoming increasingly dominate throughout the world.

The culture that is being exported from the U.S. includes human values and it includes our concerns for human rights. Through trade our culture becomes a part of the country that we are trading with.

It is my view that trade, in general, does far more to open up a country than the absence of trade. Certainly, for instance, China has made far greater strides on human rights than Cuba. We have been trading with China and not trading with Cuba. Cuba is still a very closed country with much less concern for human rights than China.

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