Clinton's China Trade Request Comes At Difficult Time

On June 3 President Clinton ignited what has become an annual Capitol Hill debate by sending Congress his request to extend Normal Trade Relations (NTR) with China. But winning renewal of NTR, a priority of business, promises to be even more controversial this year than in the past. Many legislators, already upset over China's human-rights abuses and charges of illegal political contributions, are especially disinclined to grant NTR in the wake of last month's Congressional report on alleged Chinese theft of U.S. nuclear secrets. NATO's mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade also has tightened tensions between the nations and could be a factor in the debate. The strained Sino-U.S. relations also have stalled negotiations over China's entry into the World Trade Organization. At one time the White House hoped to couple a request for approval of that agreement with its NTR request. Congress has 90 days to reject Clinton's request. Otherwise NTR (formerly called "Most Favored Nation") automatically goes into effect, continuing the same tariff treatment for China as other major U.S. trading partners. A vote is likely before Congress' summer recess starting in early August.

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