Byline: Jim Ostroff / With contributions from Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — President Clinton sent legislation to Congress Wednesday that would grant China the same trade privileges accorded most nations and move it a step closer to having virtually unlimited access to the American apparel and textile markets.
The legislation, designed to grant China permanent Normal Trade Relations status, would pave the way for China to join the World Trade Organization, which the two countries agreed to provisionally last year.
Speaking at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Clinton called upon Congress to pass the bill by June so it won’t become entangled in election-year politics.
The 1999 U.S.-Sino accord basically provides that China will open its markets to U.S. exports over a five-to-10-year period. Much to the chagrin of the U.S. textile industry, the accord also stipulates that U.S. apparel and textile import quotas will end on Jan. 1, 2005, for China and all other WTO-member nations.
The industry had wanted China to face a 10-year quota elimination, as did all WTO countries, beginning in 1995. However, under the U.S.-Sino accord, the the U.S. can unilaterally restrain some Chinese apparel and textile imports through 2008, and that provision will be subject to the outcome of China’s negotiations with other WTO members.
The accord essentially requires Congress to drop the annual requirement that it renew China’s Normal Trade Relations status, which guarantees it the same low U.S. tariffs accorded most nations, save for Cuba, Libya and a few others.
Although the WTO’s 135 member-nations must still agree to China’s accession, it is widely acknowledged that U.S. approval is the one stumbling block remaining.
The nation’s largest unions, including the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters and UNITE, have vowed to defeat the China-WTO bill. They claim China is one of the world’s worst violators of labor laws and human rights and argue that annual NTR renewal is the only lever the U.S. has against China on these issues.
The American Textile Manufacturers Institute has argued that China routinely illegally ships billions of dollars of apparel to the U.S. by transshipping garments through myriad other countries. U.S. importers and retailers counter that this is a phony charge used by some textile companies to scare firms into sourcing from U.S., Mexican or Caribbean makers who use a huge amount of American fabrics.
Clinton argued that Congress should grant China permanent NTR and the WTO accession pact.
The battle over China probably will be waged in the House. Passage of permanent NTR by the Senate is considered less of a problem.

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