IS IT A TRADE ISSUE OR IS THERE MORE AT STAKE IN ALLOWING CHINA INTO THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION? THAT'S THE QUESTION FACING CONGRESS AS IT PONDERS WHETHER TO GRANT "NORMAL TRADE RELATION" STATUS TO THE CHINESE. THE WHITE HOUSE AND FARM STATE LAWMAKERS FAVOR THE APPROVAL. HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS AND NATIONAL SECURITY HAWKS ARE NOT SO EAGER.
IT'S A DELICATE DANCE. IN NEGOTIATIONS LAST FALL ON A BILATERAL TRADE DEAL WITH THE U.S., THE CHINESE MADE BIG-TIME CONCESSIONS. THEY DID SO IN THE HOPE THE WHITE HOUSE COULD CONVINCE CONGRESS TO GRANT PERMANENT NORMAL TRADE RELATION STATUS TO CHINA. THAT STEP IS CRITICAL TO CHINA'S JOINING THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION. U.S. AGRICULTURE IS SEEN AS A BIG WINNER IF THE DEAL GOES THROUGH. SO, WITH ONE FOOT ALREADY IN THE CHINESE DOOR, THERE'S SOME URGENCY FROM THE ADMINISTRATION AS IT MAKES ITS SALES PITCH ON THE HOMEFRONT.
DAN GLICKMAN, SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE: "We are in an era in which American agriculture has been suffering and it is linked to the global economy and increasingly dependent on trade. As I've said before, we have nothing to gain and a great deal to lose by walking away from our agreement with China."
WITH THAT, THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION THIS WEEK BEGAN ITS PUSH FOR CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL OF A CONTROVERSIAL BILATERAL TRADE AGREEMENT WITH CHINA.
FOR U.S. FARMERS, THE ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF THE TRADE PACT ARE TANGIBLE.
HAMMERED OUT LAST YEAR, THE AGREEMENT CALLS FOR BEIJING TO OPEN A WIDE RANGE OF ITS MARKETS TO FOREIGN GOODS. IT WOULD HAVE AN IMMEDIATE BENEFIT FOR U.S. EXPORTS OF WHEAT, CITRUS AND MEAT PRODUCTS.
IN FACT, A SMALL SALE OF U.S. WHEAT TO CHINA THIS WEEK IS BEING TOUTED BY THE WHITE HOUSE AS EVIDENCE THE CHINESE INTEND TO HONOR CONCESSIONS THEY MADE TO SEAL THE TRADE AGREEMENT. IT WAS THE FIRST SALE OF WHEAT TO CHINA FROM THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST IN 25 YEARS.
GLICKMAN: "We are watching to make sure this initial purchase is followed by additional purchases of wheat, as well as honoring the commitment the Chinese made on citrus and on meats."
THE GOVERNMENT SAYS THAT BY 2005, THE PACT WILL BE WORTH AN ADDITIONAL $2 BILLION A YEAR IN U.S. FARM EXPORTS TO CHINA. THE DEAL HAS A SHORT PHASE-IN PERIOD, AND PROVIDES WHAT TRADE OFFICIALS CALL GENEROUS TARIFF RATES FOR BULK COMMODITIES LIKE WHEAT, CORN, AND COTTON.
MORE IMPORTANTLY, IT POSITIONS THE U.S. IN THE HUGE CHINESE MARKET AHEAD OF THAT NATION'S ACCEPTANCE INTO THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION. THE WHITE HOUSE IS SEEKING A QUICK VOTE ON THE TRADE PACT, SINCE NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN CHINA AND THE RIVAL EUROPEAN UNION HAVE STALLED.
SUPPORTERS SAY THE FAILURE TO APPROVE THE PACT WILL BE COSTLY IN THE "DOG-EAT-DOG" WORLD OF GLOBAL TRADE.
GLICKMAN: "The only winners would be the E.U., would be Australia, would be Canada, would be Argentina, and would be every exporter in the world who would see us as engaging in a disarmament in world trade, and will move in to suck up those markets from us. And once they're in, they will be in for good and we will be out for a very long time."
GLICKMAN WAS EMPHATIC DURING HIS TESTIMONY THAT THE TRADE DEAL WITH CHINA WOULD NOT HARM U.S. INTERESTS. "THIS IS NOT NAFTA," HE BELLOWED, IN REFERENCE TO THE OFT-MALIGNED NORTH AMERICAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT. THAT TRADE DEAL OPENED U.S. MARKETS TO A FLOOD OF GOODS FROM CANADA AND MEXICO AND IS BLAMED FOR CRIPPLING THE U.S. WINTER VEGETABLE INDUSTRY, ESPECIALLY TOMATOES.
GLICKMAN CALLED THE CHINA DEAL A "ONE-WAY STREET," CLAIMING THAT IT OPENS THE HUGE ASIAN MARKET TO A VARIETY OF U.S. GOODS WITHOUT OPENING U.S. MARKETS TO CHINA ANY WIDER THAN THEY ARE NOW.