China trade votes sought

White House unveils big monitoring effort to force compliance

`Intensive enforcement'

Critics on the Hill unimpressed with bid to swing votes

May 04, 2000|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Bargaining to secure votes in the House of Representatives for the China trade bill accelerated yesterday as the Clinton administration unveiled what it described as the most ambitious monitoring effort ever to make sure that China complies with its trade commitments.

Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers called the plan "the most intensive enforcement and compliance effort ever mounted for a single trade agreement."

The enforcement initiative is intended to ease the concerns of lawmakers who complain that there are no compliance guarantees in the agreement negotiated last year that governs the terms of China's entrance into the World Trade Organization. Past trade promises by Chinese negotiators have often been broken, congressional critics say.

"Their track record, frankly, is mixed," Commerce Secretary William M. Daley acknowledged to the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday. But he said he is setting up a team of monitors in Washington and China that will be "very aggressive at making sure China lives up to the deal."

A newly designated deputy assistant commerce secretary for China will oversee the effort, which will monitor trade patterns, quickly investigate complaints and inform U.S. companies of their legal rights as well as opportunities presented by China's entrance into the WTO.

Staunch critics of China's trade performance were unimpressed by the proposal.

"This is just an admission by the administration that they have no way to make China live up to its commitments," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat and leading opponent of the China trade bill.

Effort to swing votes

But the enforcement initiative could swing a few votes, particularly when combined with a program intended to pressure China on issues such as human rights, workers' rights and the environment, supporters of the measure say.

"I think it will help, but it's going to be part of a larger picture," said Rep. Robert T. Matsui, a California Democrat who is among the bill's leading supporters.

Congressional approval is not needed for China to enter the World Trade Organization. But as its part of the bargain, the Clinton administration promised to try to win approval from Congress to normalize trade relations with China on a permanent basis, doing away with the requirement for annual renewal.

Nearly every U.S. trading partner now enjoys the permanent status China is seeking.

If Congress does not pass the legislation, U.S. businesses and farmers would not be able take advantage of the expanded access to lucrative Chinese markets negotiated in the agreement last year. But China would continue to have access to U.S. markets, which consume about one-third of China's exports.

"This is a one-way street -- an unprecedented opening of markets in China with no further opening of American markets," Summers told the Ways and Means panel. "To forgo the opportunity ... would be folly."

An unusual alliance of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats argues, however, that the United States should not surrender any leverage it might have to curb Chinese human rights abuses in order to gain potential economic rewards.

"Right smack in the middle of this debate, the Chinese government continues to arrest and imprison people because of their faith," said Rep. Frank R. Wolf, a Virginia Republican. "I am concerned that we in the U.S. have become so enamored with China's prospective market that we are on the verge of ignoring history, of ignoring China's abysmal human rights record, and of ignoring the threats China poses to U.S. national security."

Even so, Senate approval of the measure to grant permanent normal trade relations to China is considered assured. Clinton administration officials, as well as Republican congressional leaders who support them on the trade bill, are increasingly confident about their ability to win at least narrow backing for the China trade bill when the sharply divided House takes up the measure late this month.

The two top Democratic leaders in the House, Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and David E. Bonior of Michigan, oppose the trade bill. But Matsui said 70 to 80 Democrats -- out of 212 -- would likely join 140 to 160 Republicans to reach the total of 218 votes required for passage.

But approval won't be assured in the House until the myriad concerns of a wide array of lawmakers in both parties are addressed.

Cardin wavering

Among those still wavering is Baltimore Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin, who along with other undecided lawmakers met with President Clinton at the White House on Tuesday to discuss the conditions needed to gain their support.

For Cardin, those conditions deal with human rights, labor rights and stricter enforcement of laws that prevent cheap foreign steel from being dumped on U.S. markets.

"I was very impressed," Cardin said. "The president was very knowledgeable about what I wanted, and he said would he try to get it,"

The Clinton administration is partly addressing the concerns of Cardin and other Democrats by backing a proposal developed by Rep. Sander M. Levin, a Michigan Democrat, that would create a commission to monitor workers' rights in China and recommend sanctions in cases of abuses.

In legislation that would be passed in tandem with the trade bill, Levin also calls for greater monitoring of China's compliance with the WTO agreement, in which it commits itself to lowering trade barriers.

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