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Thursday, 18 May, 2000, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Business lobbies hard on China
Companies like Boeing see China as a major market
Companies like Boeing see China as a major market
The vote in the US Congress over granting permanent normal trading relations with China is being seen as a key test of future US trade policy. Politicians, unions and the business community are all lobbying hard on the issue. News Online profiles the efforts of US business to persuade a sceptical public of the benefits of the deal.

The US business lobby has mobilised as never before over the China trade deal.

Business believes that if the US turns it back on a deal which could open the Chinese market to US companies, they will be at a serious competitive disadvantage compared to their European and Asian rivals.

President Clinton
The business community has a strong ally in President Clinton

Business groups are working overtime to drive home the importance of the deal and win passage of the trade pact.

"This is one of the most important business issues to come along in a generation," said Bill Morley, chief trade lobbyist with the US Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber's members have told the organisation's leaders that this is a huge priority, and "they are putting their money where their mouth is," Mr Morley said.

John Schachter with the Business Roundtable, said: "The vote coming up is the most critical economic and foreign policy vote in a long time."

Businesses in the US see the trade deal as crucial in gaining access to China's 1.4 billion people.

"We have mobilised the business community like never before," he said.

Lobbying congress

The US Chamber of Commerce has 16 full-time lobbyists working on the issue in Washington.

But the effort extends far beyond Capitol Hill. The chamber's 13 regional directors and managers and state and local chambers have been working across the country.

During the recent congressional recess, not only the Chamber of Commerce but also the Business Roundtable fanned out across the country to sell the agreement to legislators.

United States Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky signs the China trade pact
Trade groups have praised USTR Charlene Barshefsky's deal with China

Representatives from the chamber lobbied in 132 districts across 28 states, and the Business Roundtable was in 88 districts in 19 states rallying support for the bill.

They targeted undecided legislators and new members of Congress who might still be swayed to vote for the bill.

Grassroots push

But it was more than simply lobbying members of congress.

Mr Schachter said that his organisation also hired local grassroots organisers to rally local support.

They also worked with small, medium and large businesses, academics, officials and "anyone interested, to promote the benefits of international trade," he said.

These people, in turn, met with local boards of education and spoke at public functions on the issue.

They also have it on their web sites. The Business Roundtable allows visitors to their site to click on their state to see how the trade deal with China will potentially affect them.

Filling the airwaves

To complement these efforts, the Business Roundtable mounted a number of print, radio and television ad campaigns.

Some were aired nationally, some in specific congressional districts and others in Washington.

And during the last congressional recess, they launched a targeted, co-ordinated campaign to reach key undecided members of congress.

They wanted to make sure that members of congress saw and heard their message wherever they turned.

We wanted them to see it in what they were reading, hear it on the radio, watch it on television and hear it from who they were meeting with, Mr Schachter said.

Working overtime

It is a Herculean effort even by Washington standards, said Robert A. Kapp, the president of the US China Business Council.

He has been working 14, 15 and even 16 hour days for much of the last year on the issue.

He wants congress to realise the "insanity of walking away from a brilliantly negotiated agreement."

But after all the effort, he recognises that it will be politics, not economics, that will determine the outcome of the vote.

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See also:

17 May 00 | Business
Bush backs China trade deal
10 May 00 | Business
US trade battleground
06 Apr 00 | Americas
Lockheed faces China trade charges
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