TRADE China Vote Is Close

Article excerpt

With the U.S. House almost equally divided on Chinese trade, the vote of U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns could be pivotal.

The United States has normal trade status, or reasonable quotas and tariffs, with virtually the entire world. For two decades, however, China's status has been "temporary" -- subject to an annual vote by Congress for renewal.

President Clinton wants to make that status "permanent" -- still revokable but no longer subject to annual votes.

That makes a great deal of sense. Annual votes are a relic of the Cold War -- and, by keeping trade status in doubt, they have prevented many American businesses from winning long-term contracts in the lucrative and rapidly expanding Chinese markets.

The Senate is expected to approve permanent trade status. But in the House, where a vote is expected this week, the outcome remains in doubt.

Rep. Tillie Fowler will vote for permanent status, and Rep. Corrine Brown will vote against. But Stearns, the third member who represents part of Jacksonville, is undecided. He is leaning toward voting against it, however.

Stearns, normally a clear thinker, needs to consider this report from the Associated Press:

"Tariffs on U.S. products would drop an average of 17 percent to 10 percent by 2005. Automobile tariffs would fall from 80 percent or more to 25 percent by 2006. …