HOUSE SETS CHINA VOTE

WASHINGTON — Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert on Wednesday set the week of May 22 for the House to vote on whether to grant China permanent normal trade relations status.
Setting a date for this controversial decision — a key step in China’s bid to join the World Trade Organization — is considered crucial by PNTR advocates. They wanted a deadline in order to build momentum via lobbying before the vote, as well as to keep pro-PNTR lawmakers from defecting as November’s election draws near.
The battle over PNTR will be in the House, whereas passage in the Senate is more certain. Granting China PNTR is a priority of the Clinton administration.
The legislation would end the practice of voting annually on China’s preferable trading status, something that all but a handful of countries now enjoy. Opponents still want China to improve human and worker rights and environmental records.
Without PNTR, China has said it won’t allow the U.S. to avail itself of lower tariffs and greater access to China’s market, as negotiated under its pending WTO agreement.