Two weeks before the U.S. House of Representatives is slated to vote on permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) for China the controversial measure's backers are short of the 218 votes they need for approval. However, when the legislators cast their yeas and nays during the week of May 22, PNTR will win approval predicts Frank J. Vargo, the newly installed vice president of international economic affairs at the National Assn. of Manufacturers (NAM), Washington. The NAM, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Business Roundtable have been leading the business community's pro-PNTR lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill -- and they are getting some potent political assistance from President Clinton. But organized labor, specifically the AFL-CIO, has been very effective in opposing PNTR, mainly on human-rights and labor-standards grounds. PNTR is a precondition to U.S. companies receiving the trade concessions the Chinese agreed to last November in a trade pact inked by U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and Chinese trade minister Shi Guangsheng. Passage of PNTR promises to be much closer than last week's 309 to 110 House vote approving trade incentives for sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America. And passage of PNTR for China depends upon U.S. business presenting a more convincing case for the legislation than labor has against it. Human rights -- including Beijing's recent crackdown on the Falun Dafa religious movement -- and national security -- the fear that China will not live up to its promises to open its markets -- remain two of the critical issues, especially among uncommitted representatives.