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Senate Passes China PNTR Bill with 83-15 vote

(H.R. 4444 passes in 83-15 vote)
By Steve La Rocque
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The Senate passed H.R. 4444, the bill that grants China Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status, by a 83 to 15 vote September 19.

The House of Representatives had passed H.R. 4444 May 24 by a 237-197 margin.

The bill now goes to the President for his signature, and then becomes law.

President Clinton had said that gaining passage of a bill granting China PNTR was the number one legislative goal of his final year in office.

As explained by Senator Max Baucus (Democrat of Montana) in a September 15 speech, the legislation "will authorize the President to grant permanent Normal Trade Relations status to China after he certifies to Congress that the terms of China's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) are at least equivalent to those agreed in the U.S.-PRC bilateral agreement reached last November."

Before the President can make that certification, Baucus said, "the ongoing multilateral negotiations in Geneva must be completed, specifically, the Protocol of Accession and the Working Party Report [for China] to the WTO General Council."

U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and her Chinese counterparts finished negotiations in Beijing in late 1999 on the terms for China's accession to the World Trade Organization. That U.S.-China bilateral negotiation, supporters of PNTR noted, lasted through three U.S. Presidential administrations.

The legislation granting China PNTR allows the President to determine that the so-called Jackson-Vanik provisions of the Trade Act of 1974 "should no longer apply to the People's Republic of China."

After making that determination about China, the President can proclaim "the extension of nondiscriminatory treatment (normal trade relations treatment) to the products of that country."

China would get PNTR status, according to the legislation, "no earlier than the effective date of the accession of the People's Republic of China to the World Trade Organization."

H.R. 4444 gives the President powers to deal with market disruptions caused by Chinese products coming into the American market "in such increased quantities or under such conditions as to cause or threaten to cause market disruption to the domestic producers of a like or directly competitive product."

The President, in such a case, "would proclaim increased duties or other import restrictions with respect to such product, to the extent and for such period as the President considers necessary to prevent or remedy the market disruption."

The legislation also provides that in "any case in which a WTO member other than the United States requests consultations with the People's Republic of China under the product-specific safeguard provision of the Protocol of Accession of the People's Republic of China to the World Trade Organization, the Trade Representative shall inform the United States Customs Service, which shall monitor imports into the United States of those products of Chinese origin that are the subject of the consultation request."

H.R. 4444 also calls for the establishment of a Congressional-Executive Commission on the People's Republic of China.

The Commission, as the legislation terms it, would "monitor the acts of the People's Republic of China which reflect compliance with or violation of human rights, in particular, those contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

It would look into the right of Chinese individuals to "engage in free expression without fear of any prior restraints," to "peaceful assembly without restrictions," to "religious freedom, including the right to worship free of involvement of and interference by the government."

The Commission, H.R. 4444 says, would be made up of 23 members, with the chairman being chosen in turn from either the Senate or the House of Representatives.

There would be nine members on the Commission from the House of Representatives, with five members from the majority party and four members from the minority party.

A similar number, with the same make-up, would come from the Senate.

The President would appoint one member from the Department of State; one member from the Department of Commerce; one member from the Department of Labor; and two "at-large" representatives from the executive branch.

Debate on granting China PNTR status was fierce in both the House and the Senate. PNTR supporters pointed to the expanded trade opportunities awaiting U.S. firms as China opened its economy to the world, and the liberalizing effects on China's society of American firms operating there.

Opponents pointed to China's human rights record, its role in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, its threats to Taiwan, and the possibility that instead of trade liberalizing the communist regime, it might only make Beijing a more formidable adversary of the United States.

The dilemma facing lawmakers on the issue of Sino-American relations was captured in a speech by Senator Fred Thompson (Republican of Tennessee) where he compared the choice to engage China peacefully through trade as a gamble, both for Washington and Beijing.

The United States, Thompson said, is taking the gamble that the expanded trade and contact can "open up that society somewhat and lead to a more open society, a democratic society," Thompson said in a September 11 speech seeking to attach his China Non-Proliferation Act to the PNTR bill.

On the other hand, the Tennessee Republican said, "the Chinese are taking a gamble in that they can open up economic trade somewhat, and they can adopt a more capitalistic society and still maintain dictatorial control from the top, and that it will not get away from them."

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov) ****

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