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Sino-U.S. Relations Expected To Become Hot Campaign Item

By Edwin Chen

Supporters of China’s entry into the World Trade Organization on Monday predicted congressional approval next year, but opponents of the deal vowed an all-out fight, virtually ensuring that Sino-U.S. relations will become an issue in next year’s presidential and some congressional campaigns.

One indication, just hours after the announcement in Beijing of an agreement between U.S. and Chinese negotiators: Gary Bauer and Steve Forbes, two contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, renewed their disapproval of letting China in the WTO.

Joining them, John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, called “the fevered rush to admit China to the WTO a grave mistake” and said organized labor “will fight it.”

Such odd-couple alliances notwithstanding, Congress is widely expected to endorse the agreement.

“I’m predicting it right now: We will succeed,” said Rep. David Dreier (D-Calif.) an influential WTO champion who chairs the House Rules Committee.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) said he wanted to review the agreement in detail, but added that China’s membership in the WTO would represent “significant progress for both nations.” Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., took a slightly more guarded stance, saying he wanted to reserve judgment.

But Dreier had no doubt about the outcome in Congress. “Republicans have traditionally stood for free trade,” he said.

A number of corporations and business alliances endorsed the agreement and said they would work for its ratification, including GM and the Business Roundtable.

“If the agreement is one that American business can support, and if China reaches agreement with the other WTO members, the U.S. chamber will launch a major lobbying campaign” to back the agreement, said Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The issue is not likely to figure much in the Democratic contest for that party’s presidential nomination, since both Vice President Al Gore and former Sen. Bill Bradley support free trade.

Not so on the GOP side. The matter could prove nettlesome for Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Sen. John S. McCain of Arizona. Both support free trade. But at a time when each is courting party conservatives, backing the WTO agreement may not sit well.