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Senate Approves PNTR for China

Dateline: 09/18/00
Updated: 09/19/00

In what some members consider Congress' most important vote since World War II,  the U.S. Senate today approved a bill granting permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) to the People's Republic of China. 

In a vote of 83-15, Senators passed the bill H.R. 4444, "To authorize extension of nondiscriminatory treatment (normal trade relations treatment) to the People's Republic of China, and to establish a framework for relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China." President Clinton, who has long supported PNTR for China, is expected to sign the bill.

As today's final floor debate began on the bill, Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) told the Senate, "If we fail to pass PNTR legislation, we would be sending a signal to the world that the United States wants to isolate China."

In a Reuters news story, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky is quoted as stating, "Granting PNTR for China not only provides tremendous economic opportunities for U.S. workers, farmers and businesses, it is also the best way to promote reform in China and stability in the region."

Under the terms of this bill, actual extension of normal trade relations will not become effective until the acceptance of the People's Republic of China to the World Trade Organization.

As defined by the United States - China Business Council (a pro-PNTR organization), Permanent Normal Trade Relations, "'describes the unconditional Normal Trade Relations tariff status that members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) accord each other as part of their mutual commitments as WTO members. Frequently called Most Favored Nation tariff status in international law, PNTR refers to the standard or 'general' tariff treatment the United States extends to other countries in return for mutually favorable tariff treatment for US exports.'"

Discussion Group: Free trade with China -- good or bad? 
Read the opinions of others or share your own in this online forum.

Bipartisan Debate and Amendments Slowed Senate Action
The Senate's consideration of PNTR featured two-weeks of bipartisan debate, with Republicans and Democrats arguing on both sides of the issue.

More than twenty amendments to H.R. 4444 intended to made continued extension of PNTR conditional on the Beijing government's agreement to undertake programs to improve the condition of the Chinese people in the areas of  human rights, religious freedom, environmental protection and labor relations were proposed, debated and rejected. Here a few examples:

Amendment 4114  -- To require the president to certify to Congress that the People's Republic of China has taken certain actions with respect to ensuring religious freedom, as recommended by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Proposed by Sen Paul Wellstone (D-MN). (Failed 28-69)

Amendment 4115  -- To require the United States to support the transfer of United States clean energy technology as part of assistance programs with respect to China's energy sector. Proposed by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV). (Failed 31-65)

Amendment 4119  -- To require the President certify to Congress that the People's Republic of China is in compliance with certain Memoranda of Understanding regarding prohibition on import and export of prison labor products. Proposed by Sen Paul Wellstone (D-MN). (Failed 29-68)

Amendment 4125  -- To require the President certify to Congress that the People's Republic of China has taken certain actions with respect to ensuring human rights protection. Proposed by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) (Failed 32-63)

Amendment 4129  -- To require that the Congressional-Executive Commission monitor the cooperation of the People's Republic of China with respect to POW/MIA issues, improvement in the areas of forced abortions, slave labor, and organ harvesting. Proposed by Sen. Bob Smith (R-NH). (Failed 24-74)

Amendment 4132  -- To provide for the application of certain measures to covered countries in response to the contribution to the design, production, development, or acquisition of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons or ballistic or cruise missiles. Proposed by Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN). (Tabled)

The Senate's consideration of PNTR featured two-weeks of intense bipartisan debate, with Republicans and Democrats arguing on both sides of the issue.

Addressing Human Rights in China
The bill as approved does require the establishment of a Congressional-Executive Commission on the People's Republic of China charged with monitoring 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.

Who supports free trade with China?
Free trade with China is supported by the Clinton Administration, corporate America and agricultural interests. They feel free trade will open up a huge new market for American goods,  result in improved conditions for Chinese workers and encourage the Beijing government to enact human rights reform.

Who opposes free trade with China?
In opposition are organized labor along with human-rights and religious groups. Opponents fear cheap labor in China will encourage U.S. manufacturers to move factories to China while rewarding the totalitarian Beijing government, and possibly leading to the invasion or embargo of Taiwan by China.

Also see:

Senate to Pass China Pact in Historic Vote
CNN Online - Sept. 19, 2000

After the China Trade Bill - What's at Stake?
The real story for Labor, and the Economy overall, will come as the application of the agreement unfolds. With retooling and new trade relationships China could be in the right place at the right time with a new challenge to U.S. industries. From Labor Issues Guide David Low.

China Opposes PNTR Conditions
Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China would require the creation of a commission responsible for monitoring human rights conditions in China. China doesn't like that. From Kevin Reid, About Human Rights Guide.

China and Free-Trade Guilt: An Editorial
If liberalized trade with China is good for both countries, then why does it make me feel so lousy? A look at human rights, dictatorships, a new flick, and free trade. From US Politics Guide John Aravosis.

China - Down to the Wire
After weeks of furious debate, a historic bill to grant China permanent normal trade relations is entering the do-or-die stage. US News Guide Clare Saliba provides a roundup of some of the best resources and coverage of the issue that the Net has to offer.

China Trade Pact - Agriculture
The effects of the trade bill on  ag-industry. From Agricultural Guide Kathy Gill.

China Poised to Join World Trade
Labor Issues Guide David Low's article provides key background and resources to understand the issues behind this historic debate and vote in Congress. (Follow-up ongoing coverage)

Union Demonstrations in Washington
During the week of April 13, 2000, over 15,000 protestors opposed to the China trade bill marched in Washington. Labor Issues Guide David Low covered the event and sorts out the reasons behind it.

Bridging the Gap on PNTR
About.com guide to Global Business Paul Bishop examines who will have to give what to reach an agreement on trade with China.

China and The United States
Related articles and opinion from around the world. From World Current Events Guide Keith Porter.

Prince Charles says 'No' to Noodles with Jiang
"And rumors that Charles, Prince of Wales boycotted the Chinese President's dinner invitation appear to be true." Royalty guide Stuart MacWatt reports on a royal snub of China president Jiang Zemin.

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