Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON — Extending China’s trade benefits could emerge as a contentious political issue this year because of recent disputes with the U.S. over intellectual property rights violations, the chairman of the House Trade Subcommittee said Monday.
In the first organizational meeting of the panel since it came under Republican control in the 104th Congress, Rep Phil Crane (R., Ill.), predicted China’s trade status could be a “hot potato.”
Rep. Robert Matsui (D., Calif.), who successfully shepherded the Clinton administration’s proposal to separate China’s trade benefits from its human rights policies through the House last year, agreed, as he urged the administration to consider the China matter before opposition builds on Capitol Hill.
“I hope the administration gets its act together soon so there is no crisis in June when we vote,” Matsui said. “I want them to tell us what they are going to do with China before there are 200 votes lined up against them.”
After the meeting, Matsui predicted that, because of the additional controversy over intellectual property, the dynamics of the China debate could be drastically changed from last year, which could bode poorly for extension of the low-tariff benefits China obtains under Most Favored Nation trading status. Since the Chinese government suppressed human rights protestors in 1989, Congress has annually reviewed China’s trade status, which has become complicated by pressures within the U.S. that China improve its human rights policies.
Last year, Clinton sidestepped the issue when he separated the two and sought extension of China’s benefits while promising separately to continue efforts to improve human rights policies there.
The trade panel is not expected to advance any legislation, however, until after House Republicans complete work on their Contract with America, which is slated to consume the first 100 days of this congressional session. — Fairchild News Service