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Wednesday, 17 May, 2000, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Bush backs China trade deal
Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush
Mr Bush wants to drive a wedge between Congressional Democrats
US Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has backed President Clinton on a key trade vote on China.

In a test of the strength of protectionist sentiment, the US House of Representatives will vote next week on whether to grant China 'permanent normal trading relations' (PNTR).

Four presidents, including Mr Clinton, have urged Congress to support the proposal, which would clear the way for US companies to benefit from a trade-opening agreement negotiated in November with China.

Boeing assembly line
Boeing hopes for more sales to China
Mr Bush urged members of Congress to set aside partisan concerns and "join together to make China a normal trading partner of the United States."

Speaking to Boeing workers in Seattle, Mr Bush said that it was in the United States' best interest to encourage the goals of "freedom, security and economics" in China.

That would not be accomplished "by hindering free trade or seeking to isolate China."

"Economic freedom creates habits of liberty ... trade freely with China and time is on our side," he said.

"The stakes are high on all sides. For businesses workers and farmers it will mean lower trade barriers and enormous opportunities," Mr Bush concluded.

Democratic concerns

In speaking out, Mr Bush is hoping to differentiate himself from his Democratic rival, Vice President Al Gore.

USTR Charlene Barshefky and US Commerce Sec. William Daley
US officials are urging Congressional passage
Although Mr Gore has also backed the China trade deal, he is wary of going too far because many of his trade union supporters oppose the deal.

Mr Gore says that he understands their concerns, and calls for "free and fair trade" that lifts living standards around the world and is coupled with "the authority to enforce worker rights, human rights and environmental protections".

A number of key Democrats in Congress, including the minority leader Richard Gephardt, plan to vote against granting China PNTR.

Opponents of the deal say the US will lose any leverage on China, while human rights abuses and labour law violations would continue.

Bush the free-trader

The Republican candidate made it clear that he was going to take a stronger line on free trade than the current Democratic administration.

"They have mishandled the global trade negotiations right here in Seattle. I will make expanding trade a consistent priority of my administration," Mr Bush said.

"After last year's confusion in Seattle, a leader of the protectionist camp confidently declared that by excluding China from the WTO they hoped to deliver the last blow against our system of free trade. Neither the United States nor the world can afford such a setback," he said.

But Mr Bush made it clear that he would take a tougher line with China, with more support for Taiwan.

He said that the Clinton administration was wrong to regard China as a "strategic partner" of the United States, and had been inconsistent on Taiwan.

Congressional ploys

Meanwhile the Congress reached agreement on a new plan to monitor human rights in China even after the trade deal, which may help ease its passage.

House Democrat Robert Matsui, who is leading the White House campaign for PNTR, said that the human rights commission was a "done deal" after further safeguards were added in overnight negotiations.

The proposal by Democrat Sander Levin and Republican Dough Bereuter, may sway some Democrats who have been reluctant to back PNTR.

The proposal, however, is still likely to pass only with overwhelming Republican support.

The US business community is lobbying hard to gain support for the China trade deal - but the vote is considered too close to call in Congress.

If the proposal carries, it will be with majority Republican support.

The debate over PNTR is a legacy of the Cold War when the US Congress tried to use its powers to deny trade privileges to Communist regimes.

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See also:

10 May 00 | Business
US trade battleground
09 Mar 00 | Business
Clinton pushes trade with China
23 Feb 00 | Business
US-China trade deal 'in jeopardy'
15 Nov 99 | The Economy
China deal to boost economy
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