WASHINGTON -- It's generally agreed that the China trade bill the Senate is set to pass lays the basis for one of the most profound changes in U.S.-China relations since the first American ship, the Empress of China, arrived in Canton 216 years ago with 28 tons of ginseng herbs from the slopes of Appalachia.
Since then, the dream of feeding and clothing what is now one-fifth of the world's population has constantly been thwarted by war, economic turmoil and revolution. That could be about to change, although some warn it's too great a risk to American security and political interests.
On paper, it's an exceptional deal. On Tuesday, the Senate is certain to pass, and send to President Clinton for his signature, legislation that ends the annual battle over China's trade status and confers permanent normal trade relations.
By doing so, American businesses will benefit from the drastically lower tariffs and market-opening measures China is committed to as part of its impending entry into the World Trade Organization.
The United States, which already has open markets, makes no economic concessions as part of the agreement.
"This is the biggest trade vote this country has had in the last 25 years, and will be the most significant in the next quarter century," said Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said the trade pact would contribute to a relationship that over the next 20 to 30 years "is going to have a very direct effect on the quality of life in America."
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