The China Trade Act of 2000 Summary The China Trade Act of 2000 was introduced in Congress to allow free trade with China as with other favored nations. Trade with communist countries was currently allowed only on a year-to-year basis under the Trade Act of 1974, unlike the permanent basis offered other countries. Many members of the business community, and then President Clinton wanted this stipulation lifted once China joined the World Trade Organization, which was forthcoming. This required an act of Congress. Since Republicans typically favor big business, this allied President Clinton (D) with many Republicans and against many members of his own party, as well as labor unions. The president desired to push this bill through before his term in office ended.
Clinton gathered support for this bill by speaking with hundreds of lawmakers, either individually, in groups or by phone. A $10 million ad compaign, the largest ever, was launched by the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable.
There were many in the legislature concerned about granting permanent free trade to China due to China's history of human rights violations including religious persecution, denial of political rights and labor issues. The bill was closed to amendments and most Republicans supported the bill. However, it was not clear if there would be enough votes to ensure passage of the bill.
Organized labor was the biggest opponent of the bill. Even Vice President Al Gore broke ranks with the president and said the bill would only move American jobs to China. Large corporations lobbied heavily in support of the bill. Governor George Bush and General Colin Powell were even asked to help convince undecided Republicans to support the Democratic president's goals.
The bill passed the House with no amendments by a surprisingly wide margin. "The business community unleashed an unprecedented campaign that was hard for anyone to match," said the president of the United Auto Workers. The bill was then handed to the Senate and immediately several opponents of the bill began a filibuster. A cloture, motional requiring 60 Senators to cut off debate, was activated and scores of amendments offered by Senators failed. The bill passed without amendment with an 85-15 vote. The process for passage of the China Trade Act of 2000 took about 1 year from start to finish.
Opinion It is interesting that a Democratic president lobbied heavily for a historically Republican platform. I am also glad to see that many from both parties worked together to accomplish an important goal. The process to pass a bill is a lengthy process. Lawmakers and special interest groups felt passionate about his issue, causing some to split from their party alignment, join ranks with the opposing party, and lobby heavily to ensure passage of this bill.