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Senate will take up China trade bill in September

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate approved a procedural measure Thursday that sets the stage for September consideration of legislation to grant permanent normal trade relations to China.


The Senate approved a motion, 86-12, to proceed to a final PNTR vote, as Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, promised to hold elaborate and serious debate of the bill with "no rush to judgment."

Lott agreed to take this first step in consideration of the measure through a deal to also take up spending bills, which he calls his first priority, in the evenings while debating PNTR "in the light of the day."

"We have done all the procedural things we need to do to bring up this bill," said Lott's spokesman, John Czwartacki. "The votes are there."

The White House and business community had been urging swift consideration of the measure for weeks, but Lott had resisted bringing up the measure in time for a final vote before the August recess to use it as leverage in the battle with the White House over the 13 federal spending bills.

Many Republicans who support the measure had advised Lott to hold off on the vote in order to hold the debate closer to the election, because the issue of PNTR divides Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott  

But other supporters of the measure, particularly the White House and the business community, have told Lott that delaying the vote could imperil the legislation if something unforeseen should occur in China or elsewhere.

"I am pleased to see the process move forward," U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefksy said Thursday of Lott's move. "Prompt action is essential if the U.S. is to benefit from China's accession to the WTO."

Although the vast majority of senators support granting permanent trade status to China, there are some who would like to amend the landmark agreement to include provisions regarding nuclear proliferation, environmental standards and labor practices.

The nuclear weapons provision, introduced by Sens. Fred Thompson, R-Tennessee, and Robert Torricelli, D-New Jersey, is opposed by business groups and the White House even though the senators agreed to several changes. The latest draft of the bill would address proliferation threats across the board, not just China. But it still would require the administration to impose sanctions unilaterally, a sticking point for the White House.

The House passed the pact in May without any additional amendments, moving one step closer to ending the arduous annual review process of Beijing's trade status and paving the way for U.S. goods to enter Chinese markets.

Sen. Jesse Helms  

But if the Senate amends the measure it would mean the House would have to hold another difficult vote, something supporters had hoped to avoid.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, for his part, promised to offer amendments. He said he would not let the measure pass without a long and thorough debate about China.

"If I have anything to do with it we are not going to rush PNTR through the Senate, we are not going to rubber stamp the President's plan to reward the Chinese communists. We are going to have a debate," he said.

"We must have a full debate and votes on issues such as China's pitiful human rights record, China's brutal suppression of religious freedom, China's increasingly belligerent stance toward the Democratic Chinese government on Taiwan and China's unbroken record of violated agreements one after another on other matters. You can't trust them," Helms said.

Reuters contributed to this report.




Thursday, July 27, 2000


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