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Clinton signs China trade bill

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton closed years of political and economic debate Tuesday, and sealed a major achievement of his administration by signing a bill extending permanent, normal trade status to China.

"Today we take a major step toward China's entry into the World Trade Organization and a major step toward answering some of the central challenges of this new century," Clinton said in a bipartisan White House ceremony Tuesday afternoon.

"Trade with China will not only extend our nation's unprecedented economic growth, it offers us a chance to help shape the future of the world's most prosperous nation and to reaffirm our own global leadership for peace and prosperity."

The measure is considered the most important U.S. trade legislation since passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. But it faced a long campaign of opposition from labor, human rights and conservative groups who wanted to retain the annual review of trade relations with China.

The Senate passed the China trade bill in September after supporters won a bruising battle in the House of Representatives in May. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle joined Clinton on the South Lawn of the White House to watch him sign the measure, dubbed the U.S.-China Relations Act of 2000.

President Clinton signs a bill extending permanent, normal trade status to China.  

The ceremony capped years of negotiations with Beijing and an intense debate at home among the Clinton administration, business and labor interests. It will open China's mammoth market to U.S. businesses and pave the way for China's entry into the World Trade Organization -- it also ends a 20-year-old U.S. ritual of annually reviewing China's trade status.

U.S. business interests wanted the agreement in order to gain access to China's market of 1-billion-plus people. But critics argued that such an agreement would reward a repressive communist state, undermine the country's labor and environmental protections and cost jobs for U.S. workers.

Clinton and other supporters argued that bringing China into the global trade regime will help make Beijing a more responsible and accountable member of the world community.

"Of course, trade with China will not in and of itself lead China to make all the choices we believe it should," Clinton said. "But clearly, the more China opens its markets, the more it unleashes the power of economic freedom, the more likely it will be to liberate the human potential of its people."

Sen. William Roth, one of its principal Senate sponsors, said the relationship between the United States and China "will be one of a handful that will dominate the world stage in the 21st century."


Normalized trade with China "is not just important in strategic terms," Roth, R-Delaware, said. "It also reflects a practical commitment to sustained, continued economic growth and rising standards of living here at home."

With China enfolded in the WTO, "The world will be a safer place -- or so we hope, and so history argues," said Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-New York.

The bill Clinton signed Tuesday stemmed from a 1999 agreement between Washington and Beijing that would ease China's entry into the World Trade Organization. With WTO membership, China will make significant cuts in its tariffs, thus opening its markets to the products and investment of America and other countries.

China must also grant Americans and others the right to set up distribution points within the country, open its financial and service sectors to international competitors, and allow outside participation in the development of its Internet and telecommunications sectors.

Some opponents worried that the U.S. would be unable to influence Beijing over human rights concerns without a yearly vote on trade. To counter those concerns, the legislation calls for setting up a congressional-executive commission to monitor human rights in China and create a so-called surge mechanism to help American industries and workers hurt by an increase in Chinese imports.





Tuesday, October 10, 2000


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