Open the Trade Door to China

Today or soon afterward, President Clinton will ask Congress to grant China permanent “normal trading relations” status. The request is based on a wide-ranging trade agreement with China paving Beijing’s way into the World Trade Organization. The trade deal, struck last fall after years of negotiation, offers U.S. companies unprecedented access to China’s markets. Beijing already has negotiated the terms of its WTO entry with most of its trading partners, and they in turn are ready to give China permanent trading privileges. Now Washington, having driven China to accept tough market-opening terms, should do the same. Clinton’s request to give China the permanent privileges deserves swift congressional approval.

Currently, trading privileges are granted to China year by year, and Washington has given the Chinese government wide access to American markets. But Beijing has not reciprocated. While U.S. exports to China more than doubled over the last decade, to $13 billion in 1999, imports from China more than quadrupled, to $82 billion last year. The flood of cheap imports from China benefits U.S. consumers, but America’s growing trade deficit has made Clinton’s case for open trade with China more difficult.

The WTO agreement would change that. Virtually all the concessions in this deal came from Beijing. China’s import tariffs would go down and its import quotas would rise. More important, as part of the deal, China has committed to a radical restructuring of its economy, abolishing the state monopoly on trade, overhauling distribution, removing investment restrictions and stiffening protection of intellectual property.

If Congress rejects Clinton’s request, foreign competitors for China’s markets will enjoy new openings while U.S. companies will not.

Having the United States and China side by side in the WTO would create export opportunities that U.S. companies do not now enjoy and improve the lopsided pro-China trade balance. Congressional approval would force Beijing to stick to economic reforms and subject its policies to the rules, discipline and supervision of the world community.