WASHINGTON — Thirty-nine retail executives have signed a letter to President Clinton urging him to extend most-favored-nation trade status to China without conditions.
They warned that even selective sanctions against Chinese imports could have “disastrous effects” on American consumers.
Those signing the letter included such chief executives as Donald Fisher, The Gap; William Howell, J.C. Penney Co.; Arthur Martinez, Sears Merchandise Group; Allen Questrom, Federated Department Stores; Myron Ullman 3rd, R.H. Macy; Robert Tarr Jr., Neiman Marcus Group; Robert Ulrich, Dayton Hudson Corp., and Leslie Wexner, The Limited.
The letter was delivered to the White House Tuesday night, and Clinton is widely expected to announce today his decision on renewing MFN for China. Sources here speculated the President will again extend MFN for a year, except for products produced by the People’s Liberation Army-owned enterprises. Clinton must decide the issue by June 3.
The executives, as members of the National Retail Federation, noted that U.S. retailers import apparel, footwear, electronics, household items and toys from China “to help satisfy our customers’ need for a variety of quality merchandise at competitive prices.” They said China trade also supports about 172,000 U.S. jobs and total MFN revocation could add up to $10 billion in consumer costs annually, citing a Congressional study.
The executives, along with Tracy Mullin, the NRF president, called upon Clinton to delink “human rights from our trading relationship with China.” They contend the best way to improve its government human rights record is through increased trade that will improve living standards, which they said is the “driving force behind political and social reform.”
Imposing limited sanctions, they asserted, “is not a viable option and would be as detrimental as total revocation of MFN. Since China has no definable distinction between the ‘private and public sectors,’ the administration of a dual tariff scheme would be impossible.
“More importantly, the Chinese would surely view this negatively and retaliate against American businesses, resulting in the same disastrous effects as if the U.S. had revoked MFN completely,” the letter continued.
China’s army operates numerous consumer product factories, reportedly including those that make apparel, toys and handguns. Trade analysts here said they expect Clinton will impose trade sanctions on the gun imports, mainly.
Others signing the letter include William Chaney, chairman, Tiffany & Co.; W. Thomas Gould, chairman, Younkers Inc.; Thomas Hays, deputy chairman, The May Department Stores Co., and apparel manufacturer Jerome A. Chazen, chairman of Liz Claiborne, which also operates stores.