China trade helps Maryland

May 22, 2000|By Charlene Barshefsky

IN THE coming weeks, Maryland's congressional representatives will vote on an American trade and foreign policy goal of historic importance: Extending permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) to China as it enters the World Trade Organization.

From the trade perspective, this decision is stark and simple. In November, after years of negotiation, we reached a bilateral agreement with China on WTO entry. This agreement secures comprehensive, one-way concessions, which open the markets of the world's largest nation to U.S. exports, strengthen our guarantees of fair trade and give us far greater ability to enforce China's trade commitments.

As China enters the WTO, it will cut tariffs, abolish quotas and remove other barriers across the full range of industrial goods, agricultural commodities and services industries. Together with these concessions will be rights to advertise, distribute and market American exports directly to Chinese customers as well as strong means of fighting Chinese dumping into the U.S. market and import surges.

For Maryland, these benefits are substantial. They will include new export opportunities as China sharply cuts tariffs and other barriers on such leading Maryland products as chemicals and medical equipment. And they will include new means for Maryland's crab industry and other import-sensitive industries to address dumping and import surges.

By contrast, we make no changes whatsoever in our own market access policies. We change none of our trade laws and none of our laws controlling the export of sensitive technology. We agree only to maintain the market access policies we already apply to China, and have for more than 20 years, by making China's current NTR status permanent.

That is the only policy issue before Congress. China will enter the WTO, regardless of the congressional debate. It will continue to sell in the U.S. market, regardless of the congressional debate. The only economic question now is whether we will get the benefits of the agreement we negotiated or simply let our trade competitors take advantage of them at our expense.

That is because if Congress were to reject PNTR, we would lose the vast majority of our negotiating gains. All WTO members must grant one another permanent normal trade relations to enjoy the benefits available in one another's markets. If Congress turns down PNTR, we would have no legal right to these benefits in China. Thus, our competitors -- European high-tech firms, Japanese seafood conglomerates -- would profit at the expense of Maryland's farmers, businesses and workers.

For reform in China, rejecting PNTR would be a severe setback.

Some of the leading advocates of democracy and human rights in Hong Kong and China -- Bao Tong, jailed for seven years after Tiananmen Square; Martin Lee, the leader of Hong Kong's Democratic Party; and many others -- see this agreement as China's most important step toward reform in 20 years. These are people who have devoted their lives to the cause of reform, and their opinion has earned our respect.

For our national security interests, turning down PNTR would be reckless.

China over the past decade was the world's fastest-growing major economy. A stable, mutually beneficial relationship with China is thus fundamentally important to our national security.

We have serious disagreements with China, and in them we must firmly assert our interests and values. We have done so at the U.N. Human Rights Commission, by sanctioning China under the Religious Freedom Act and with respect to Taiwan. But we have an equally great responsibility to find and act upon areas of shared interest.

That is what we have done in the WTO accession. Moreover, we have done it through concessions that are not only comprehensive but one-way. If we turn down a set of one-way concessions made by China, we will make a very dark statement about our ability to develop a stable and mutually beneficial relationship with the world's largest country.

But if we have the wisdom and confidence to make the right choice, we open up a remarkable set of opportunities: To reform a deeply imbalanced trade relationship, support economic reform and the rule of law in China and build a foundation for the larger ties which are so important, not only to the United States and China, but to the world.

Altogether, permanent NTR is the right thing to do -- for the workers, businesses and farmers of Maryland, for reform in China and for the vital interest every American has in building a stable peace in the years to come. The choice is up to Congress.

Charlene Barshefsky is the U.S. trade representative.

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