WTO deal 'faces Congress barrier'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 September, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 September, 1999, 12:00am

US Republican senator and presidential contender John McCain has warned of looming difficulties getting any trade deal with China passed by Congress - a move crucial to its World Trade Organisation (WTO) entry.

Senator McCain said he had long supported economic engagement with China but worried that considerable difficulties lay ahead.

'The President [Bill Clinton] has passed up a golden opportunity,' Senator McCain said, referring to the scotching of a deal with Premier Zhu Rongji in April despite wider-than-expected concessions.

'It's going to be difficult. Time is vital. He may have found the moment has gone.' Despite widespread support from pro-business groups for China's entry, analysts and insiders on all sides of the debate are warning that a smooth passage of a bilateral trade pact now under discussion is no 'fait accompli'.

Some Republican factions are increasingly suspicious of Beijing while the textile lobby is also protesting amid signs the already troubled industry will take a short-term hit.

Hopes expressed by some American officials at the weekend, after the summit involving President Jiang Zemin and Mr Clinton, that a deal could be wrapped up in two weeks are looking slim amid signs of difficult negotiations ahead.

The pair announced a resumption of formal talks scuppered amid the diplomatic storm that followed the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.

There is little room for delay if Congress is to grant approval before a WTO ministerial meeting in Seattle at the end of the year.

A senior US diplomat warned yesterday that while China's entry would be 'win-win', Washington's mammoth trade deficit would eventually have to be addressed and make any deal 'commercially meaningful'.

'Clearly, this falls short of our goals,' said Susan Shirk, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

'Establishing a more-balanced trading relationship is a key issue in US-China relations. China needs to amend its restrictive trade practices and provide US firms increased access to its market.'