China welcomes US call for normal trade ties
BEIJING, China -- China has welcomed U.S. President George W. Bush's plan to ask Congress to renew normal trade relations in a sign of easing tensions ahead of talks next week on Beijing's entry to the WTO.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao emphasised that permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) were mutually beneficial but said the United States should end its annual review of China's trading status.
"Normal trade relations is an equal and reciprocal arrangement between states, which serves as the basis for normal exchanges between China and the United States. It serves the interests of both sides," he said.
Bush is due to ask Congress on Friday to renew PNTR, which allows Chinese exports into the United States at the same low tariffs as goods from most countries.
"It is only reasonable that this practise of annually reviewing normal trade relations should be stopped," he said.
"This is a reciprocal trading arrangement between two countries. It's not a favor one country does for another. It is mutually beneficial."
Congress approved PNTR for China last year, but it was contingent on Beijing becoming a member of WTO.
That has since been delayed by a dispute with Washington over Beijing's agricultural subsidies.
Clearing the air
Broader China-U.S. ties have been severely strained by a host of issues, including the collision between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter in April and U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
Bush's PNTR endorsement was widely expected, but it will help to clear the air when China's Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng meets new U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick for the first time next Tuesday on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gathering in Shanghai.
The meeting has raised hopes of a breakthrough in the dispute over the subsidies Beijing can pay its farmers, which has stalled multilateral talks on China's WTO entry for months.
Washington wants China to be classified as a developed country, allowing farm subsidies of just five percent of the value of total production. China says it is entitled to pay subsidies of 10 percent as a developing country.
Beijing and Washington also appear close to ending a lengthy diplomatic standoff over the crippled spy plane held on Hainan Island after China agreed in principle to allow the plane to be dismantled and flown out in a giant Antonov cargo plane.
The dispute over the spy plane, which made an emergency landing on Hainan after the collision, had threatened to spill over into trade ties and even Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Olympics.
Congress is expected to back PNTR for China, but lawmakers could still take the opportunity to attach conditions or criticise China's human rights record and other policies dividing the two countries.
Many Democrats have insisted on strong labour and environmental provisions in any trade agreement as a condition for their support.
After Bush officially certifies the trade status for China, Congress can call a vote to overturn it within 30 days.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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