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House Passes China Bill, Could Bode Well for CAFTA

House Republicans overcame strong Democratic opposition and passed a bill addressing China's unfair trading practices.

WASHINGTON — House Republicans overcame strong opposition Wednesday and passed a bill addressing China’s trading practices, part of an effort to shore up votes for the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

The House passed the measure 255-168 after a defeat Tuesday by Democrats who argued the bill fell short of addressing China’s trading practices and was being used to provide cover for members to vote for CAFTA. The Wednesday balloting under normal House rules required a simple majority, while Tuesday’s vote required a two-thirds majority.

In floor debate, Rep. Phil English (R., Pa.), who introduced the bill, said: “This is common sense legislation. It was intended as consensus legislation and it didn’t materialize out of nowhere. [Democrats] would rather stop a significant first step in dealing with China if it inconveniences their strategy on CAFTA.”

The English bill, known as the U.S. Trade Rights Enforcement Act of 2005, would allow U.S. companies to file trade cases against subsidized goods from China. The bill authorizes the application of U.S. countervailing duty laws to exports from nonmarket economies such as China. Under current law, companies are not allowed to file claims against nonmarket economies of illegally subsidized exports or goods “dumped” in the U.S. below cost.

English said it is the first step in 15 years aimed at strengthening U.S. trade remedy laws and a comprehensive bill designed to eliminate inequities in the trading relationship between the U.S. and China.

But Democrats, who are solidly opposed to CAFTA, argued that the China legislation was intended to be a “fig leaf” for lawmakers who want to show they are working hard to combat unfair trading practices to help U.S. workers, but also want to vote for a highly controversial trade agreement that many opponents claim will create more job losses in the U.S.

It is unclear how many votes, other than that of English, the China legislation secured for CAFTA.

“It’s a smoke screen,” said Rep. Sander Levin (D., Mich.). “It’s an effort to say we are doing something when we are not in order to give some people an excuse to vote for another bill. This is such a weak bill and we should do better.”

Levin said the House should consider an alternative bill offered by the Democrats because it calls for tougher sanctions against China.

Democrats agitated for legislation against China’s trade practices in reaction to a surge in Chinese imports this year following the dropping of quotas among World Trade Organization members. The administration has responded to petitions brought by the domestic textile industry by imposing safeguard quotas against $1.31 billion worth of Chinese goods, limiting their annual growth to 7.5 percent.