WASHINGTON — Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), chairman of the Senate Trade Subcommittee, wants to shift responsibility for fostering human rights in China to U.S. importers.
In a speech prepared for delivery today to a China conference at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank, Baucus, an advocate of maintaining China’s Most Favored Nation trade status, makes his strongest plea for doing this.
He argues that the MFN status should be extended permanently without conditions and asks U.S. importers to set codes of conduct on human rights and environmental protection in Chinese factories.
Baucus rejects the idea that MFN be revoked only for Chinese-owned factories — an idea that has been floated on Capitol Hill — as “unworkable…not even remotely possible.”
Baucus cites companies — including Reebok; Sears, Roebuck, and Levi Strauss — that are already taking steps to insure better human rights policies in the Chinese factories that make their products.
“Under pressure from Reebok’s code of conduct, the Chinese factories that make its shoes are already holding regular fire drills, making workers wear gloves and goggles and keeping industrial chemicals away from food. The code is preventing fires and cases of cancer. It is saving lives,” Baucus says in his speech. “I would hope the President can challenge the business community as a whole to take similar measures and set up a top-level business commission to begin developing them.”
Baucus also claims the Chinese have met the conditions laid out last year by President Clinton to merit an extension of MFN. China’s MFN status expires June 3, and Clinton has until then to decide whether to ask Congress to extend it.
In another trade issue, House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D., Mo.) introduced a bill Monday to give Clinton authority to negotiate a free trade agreement with Chile similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The bill, however, will grant the President fast-track negotiating authority only if he includes labor standards and environmental protections in the treaty negotiations and a mechanism for resolving disputes in these areas. The bill would give the President until Jan. 1, 1997, to negotiate a free-trade agreement with Chile. Cosponsors include Rep. Bill Richardson (D., N.M.) and Sen. Harris Wofford (D., Pa.).