WASHINGTON — After weeks of business and organized labor battling over undecided lawmakers, the House today is scheduled to vote on whether to grant permanent normal trade benefits to China.
Debate began Tuesday afternoon as Republican leadership and Democrat supporters, including the Clinton administration, said they had enough votes for passage, although they said the decision will be close. Opponents still held out hope for defeat.
“It would be unthinkable for Congress not to approve this very important legislation,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer (R., Texas), leading off the debate.
He said granting PNTR — and the reciprocal access U.S. goods would then have to China’s market once China joins the World Trade Organization — would add “potentially hundreds of thousands of new jobs” in this country, while encouraging social change there.
PNTR opponent Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said Congress shouldn’t reward China for its human rights violations and poor record in complying with past trade agreements, including the use of prison labor. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.), said China’s accession to the WTO would only exacerbate its $68 billion trade deficit with the U.S.
“Our economic record with China has been a disaster,” he said.
Countered Trade Subcommittee chairman Phil Crane (R., Ill.): “If you lock yourself out of the Chinese market, how do you plan to address” the deficit?
While importers of textile and apparel, including retailers, have pushed for Congress to end its annual renewal of China’s trade status, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute has been steadfastly against the change.
The ATMI has protested the failure of the U.S. to secure a delayed phaseout of global textile and apparel quotas for China as part of the U.S.-China WTO deal.
The association estimates 150,000 U.S. textile and industry jobs will be lost as a result of China’s WTO accession.
An anti-surge protection against imports flooding the market is part of the PNTR package, which Rep. Sander Levin (D., Mich.), said address such concerns from domestic industry.
“This is the strongest anti-surge provision that will be in U.S. law,” Levin said.