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Toward a New Foreign Policy.

As a WTO member, the U.S. government should support China's petition to join this international trade organization. And the U.S. Congress should end the discriminatory annual review of the normal trading relations with China by granting it NTR status along with most of the world's other nations. China is the only significant U.S. trading partner whose NTR treatment is currently subject to an annual vote by the Congress. This discriminatory treatment is a legacy of the cold war limits on trade with communist countries; its abolition is long overdue.

One important reason to welcome China into the WTO transcends mere commercial benefits. Promoting nondiscriminatory, multilateral commercial practices has been a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy since U.S. international trade policy was formulated a century ago in opposition to European imperialism in Asia and Latin America. NTR was an American invention that was enshrined as a central principle of international relations after World War II--although extended only to noncommunist "free world" nations--by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the precursor to the WTO. By granting NTR automatically to all members, the WTO prohibits countries from setting tariffs or quotas that reward some countries and punish others. Before GATT, trade discrimination was a common tactic for gaining influence abroad, sometimes leading to military intervention and even outright conquest. The U.S. has supported nondiscriminatory multilateral trade as a foundation of a liberal world order in which commercial success is primarily a function of economic competitiveness rather than political control. Depoliticizing commerce reinforces nations' mutual interest in peaceful global commerce rather than battling for exclusive spheres of influence, as occurred when imperialist politics provoked two world wars in this century. Giving China a greater stake in the international system through membership in organizations like the WTO and through broader participation in international commerce will likely influence China to cooperate more fully in international peace and security issues.

Many U.S. consumer, human rights, and labor organizations wish to use trade discrimination as leverage to enforce desirable social policies, such as human rights or environmental standards. Under current WTO rules, the U.S. cannot use human rights as a litmus test for granting trade privileges. If WTO members--some of whom are worse human rights abusers than China--are not subjected to the same litmus test as China, then it is obvious (especially to the Chinese people) that holding Chinese commerce hostage to a human rights test is hypocritical and discriminatory.

Numerous U.S. advocacy groups recommend incorporating social standards--such as environmental regulation and human rights (including labor rights)--into multilateral organizations such as the WTO. This is a desirable goal if agreement can be reached among the member governments, but until such agreement is reached, Chinas participation in the WTO should not be blocked on the basis of a higher standard than is applied to any existing member.

Prominent American labor leaders have been most vociferous in opposing any WTO agreement with China. Their arguments against it are based both on Chinas repression of labor organizers and on the supposed loss of American jobs that would result. Certainly worker rights in China today are far inferior to those of most of the other top U.S. trading partners. Independent unions and collective bargaining rights are suppressed. Yet many other developing countries that inflict similar repression on workers are already WTO members, so singling out China for exclusion is obviously discriminatory.

Furthermore, WTO membership is likely to improve workers' rights in China over the long term. Foreign employers in China today typically pay wages many times higher than those paid by domestic firms. Opening the way for more U.S. investment in China will improve wages and spread information among Chinese workers about the superior rights of workers abroad.

Isolating China from the world community is not an effective way to encourage either democratization or human rights. Approving Chinas entry into the WTO will bring the world's most populous nation into an important multilateral forum with 135 other nations. Joining the WTO will not resolve the many deep social, political, and economic problems of China. However, expanded foreign commercial relations have already contributed to a significant increase in the standard of living and life alternatives of most Chinese. WTO membership will help ensure that this expansion of the realm of freedom and possibilities continues.

Key Recommendations

* The U.S. government should support WTO entry for China.

* Commercial nondiscrimination has been a central tenet (though imperfectly implemented) of U.S. foreign policy for a century because of its benefits for both peace and prosperity. China should not be excluded from these benefits.

* Americans should support WTO membership for China, because it further opens the Chinese market to U.S. products.
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Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Dec 16, 1999
Previous Article:Problems With Current U.S. Policy.
Next Article:The China-WTO Debate: Dissenting Voices within the United States.

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