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Clinton's China trade bill set to pass soon.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 Kyodo

President Bill Clinton's hotly debated bill to grant China permanent most-favored-nation (MFN) trading status cleared its last major hurdle Wednesday when the Senate rejected an amendment seeking to keep Beijing in check on weapons proliferation.

The Senate defeated the amendment, which would have required the United States to impose tougher sanctions on China for its alleged role in proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, by 65 to 32.

Lawmakers in favor of the amendment said Beijing's weapons moves need to be monitored closely as its alleged exports of missiles to such countries as Pakistan could lead to nuclear proliferation.

''Today, we have cleared the final hurdle and moved one step closer to enacting one of the most important pieces of legislation in a generation for U.S.-China relations,'' Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and a sponsor of the bill, told reporters.

The bill -- what the administration terms the most important legislative priority since the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement -- is expected to get the Senate's approval at its voting expected later this week or early next week.

Under the bill, which passed the House of Representatives in late May, China would be accorded the same low tariff treatment as extended to other U.S. trade partners.

The trade status is expected to boost the impetus for China's early accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The final passage of the bill would end 20 years of the annual ritual of reviewing Beijing's trade ties with the U.S.

Washington struck a landmark market-opening accord with China last November as part of the country's bid to join the WTO, whereby China pledged to open up its market in sectors as diverse as autos, telecommunications, textiles and agriculture.

The accord, however, has been tied to the U.S. MFN legislation.

In the past, Congress has granted the trade status, now billed ''normal trade relations'' by the administration, only one year at a time, as a means of expressing U.S. disapproval of Beijing's human rights violations.

Some opponents of the bill say the annual review has served as a key tool for influencing China's policy.

Other opponents, especially Democratic lawmakers backed by labor unions, say granting China permanent MFN unconditionally would hurt U.S. workers by allowing a flood of cheap Chinese imports.

Proponents of the bill say the trade privilege would provide U.S. businesses with a major trading leverage in a vast market with 1.2 billion consumers.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Date:Sep 18, 2000
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