IN THE NEWS #429 - China Trade Bill

By Nancy Steinbach

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

This week, two important committees in Congress approved legislation to give permanent normal trade rights to China. The bill faces a close vote in the House of Representatives next week. But it is expected to pass easily in the Senate.

Each year since Nineteen-Eighty, Congress has renewed China's trade rights. The term "most-favored nation" is no longer used. It appeared to describe a special relationship, but only meant normal trade relations. Almost all countries have these rights with the United States. If China did not, the United States would increase taxes and restrictions on imported Chinese goods.

The bill would end the requirement that Congress vote each year on trade relations with China. It would make normal trade relations permanent. In exchange, China would open its markets to American companies. The proposed legislation this year is part of a trade agreement reached between China and the United States. The agreement helps China in its effort to join the World Trade Organization. That group sets the rules of international business.

The Clinton administration and business groups support the trade bill in Congress. They say it will earn American companies major new trading rights in China. They say China's entry into the WTO will increase American exports by as much as thirteen-thousand-million dollars within five years. And they say all that trade will help the Chinese people to become more open to influences outside their country.

The United States imported almost seventy-thousand-million dollars more from China last year than it exported to that country. Only the trade deficit with Japan is larger.

Opponents of the bill say the yearly vote in Congress is an important tool for influencing policy in China. And they question if China would honor its responsibilities as a member of the WTO. Among those opposing the bill are labor unions. They say American workers will lose their jobs. The unions worry that American companies will open more factories in China. Small-business owners worry, too, about competing against lower-cost imports. Human rights groups and environmental activists also oppose permanent trade rights for China.

To gain support for the bill, the House Ways and Means Committee last week added new measures to protect American industries. These would permit the president to assist industries hurt by a possible sudden increase of imports from China. A separate bill would create an independent committee to examine human rights in China.

In Beijing Friday, China moved another step closer to membership in the World Trade Organization, by signing a trade agreement with the European Union.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS, was written by Nancy Steinbach. This is Steve Ember.

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