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Lott seeks September vote on China trade pact
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott said Tuesday he would seek a final vote in September on a landmark China trade bill and predicted it would pass overwhelmingly.
The White House and pro-trade business groups had asked Lott of Mississippi to schedule a vote on legislation granting permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) to China this month and warned that any foot-dragging could imperil the pact.
Hoping to allay those fears, Lott said the Senate could turn to the trade bill next week and begin debate in earnest in September, after Congress' month long August recess.
"Clearly, we intend to go to this legislation," Lott said on the Senate floor.
President Bill Clinton has made passage of PNTR his top legislative priority for his final year in office.
"Today's announcement is a positive step, but with bipartisan support for this agreement it is critical that the Senate lock in its benefits with a final vote," White House spokesman Jake Siewert said after Lott's announcement.
Once approved by the Senate and signed into law by the president, the bill would end the annual ritual of reviewing Beijing's trade status and guarantee Chinese goods the same low tariff access to U.S. markets as products from nearly every other nation.
PNTR won House of Representatives approval in May after an unprecedented lobbying campaign that pitted organized labor against business over access to the vast Chinese marketplace, potentially the world's largest with 1.3 billion consumers.
The House on Tuesday reaffirmed its support for the trade bill, rejecting a resolution that would have cut off Beijing's trade benefits until it becomes a full-fledged member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
But Lott had refused to schedule a final Senate vote on the trade bill, insisting that senators first complete work on spending bills and a sanctions measure that would punish Beijing for alleged weapon sales to Pakistan and other states.
By delaying PNTR, aides said, Lott increases pressure on the Clinton administration and Senate Democrats to accept Republican spending priorities.
But the delay outraged business groups, the White House and pro-trade Senate Democrats, who feared Lott would sideline the trade bill until just before the November election, jeopardizing its prospects for passage.
Lott played down the risk to the trade bill. "The overwhelming majority of the Senate is for China PNTR," he said. "I'm not going to let this issue drag out."
Unlike the House, where two out of three Democrats voted against the measure, the trade bill enjoys broad bipartisan support in the Senate.
Sixty-five lawmakers in the 100-member Senate said in the latest Reuters poll that they would vote in favor of PNTR, enough to override a vote-blocking filibuster.
In exchange for PNTR privileges, China has agreed to open a wide range of markets, from agriculture to telecommunications, to U.S. businesses under the terms of a landmark agreement ushering Beijing into the WTO.
Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Wednesday, July 19, 2000
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