What is the single most important act that our government can perform this year to assure the continuation of the record economic prosperity we've enjoyed throughout most of the past decade and into the new century?

You might say tweak the prime rate or cut taxes. However, there is one thing upon which we can all agree to further open the world's largest markets to American goods and services. This is an effort vital to our economic and national interests.

Congress can help achieve this important objective by passing Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status with China. This would complete a process that started with the negotiation and signing of a landmark market access agreement with China last November.

The pact gave China the U.S. "thumbs-up" to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, for us to realize the benefits of this historic accord, Congress must pass PNTR legislation. WTO rules specify that member nations must grant each other PNTR status.

This deal is a win/win for the United States and New York State. And today, China, including Hong Kong, is New York State’s sixth largest export destination — bigger than Germany or France. Greater access to the Chinese market will result in increased exports and revenues for Western New York, a place where economic growth has not always kept pace with the rest of the nation.

The Buffalo-Niagara Falls metropolitan area employs more workers in the transportation equipment industry than any other manufacturing sector. Not surprisingly, transportation equipment is New York’s second highest export to China. And other major employers, which include the industrial machinery, food product, chemical, fabricated metal, electronic, and scientific instrument sectors, also are among New York’s top exports to China.

If Western New York is to catch up and enjoy the levels of growth achieved nationally, we must look beyond our borders to a greater extent. And, since 96 percent of the world’s customers live outside the United States, we need to focus on exports to maintain and create jobs here.

China already has access to our markets; supporting PNTR will not change U.S. tariff rates. It will, however, open the door to China's marketplace. With a population of more than 1.3 billion, we cannot afford to be locked out. The agreement will provide enormous opportunities for our goods. For example, the agreement will:

  • Cut average tariffs from 24% to 9% by 2005;
  • Further cut tariffs on U.S. priority to 7% by 2003;
  • Eliminate tariffs on high-technology goods by 2005;
  • Cut average agricultural tariffs by half; and
  • Remove China's distribution monopoly, allowing U.S. firms to freely distribute their goods in China.

If our Members of Congress fail to vote in favor of PNTR, we will hand over this opportunity to our European, Japanese and other competitors.

But this agreement involves more than just trade; it is an exchange of ideas, beliefs, and values that changes and enriches all who participate. For a quarter-century, U.S. trade has helped change China for the better by supporting economic freedom, human rights, access to information, higher living standards, and the rule of law for the Chinese people.

Successfully integrating China into the global economy also would advance security in the Asia-Pacific region. In fact, Taiwanese president elect Chen Shui-bian said he hopes to see China join the World Trade Organization.

On behalf of Western New York companies, workers, and farmers, I urge Congress to expeditiously approve PNTR with China. Through exports, we can help grow our local economy. In turn, this will create higher-paying jobs locally so our children can live, work, and raise their families in Western New York.

Wade Stevenson is President of the Eastman Export Corporation and a member of goTRADE New York, a pro-trade advocacy group. This article appeared in The Buffalo News, May 19, 2000. (JLM)

Wade Stevenson
About The Author Wade Stevenson
Wade Stevenson is President of the Eastman Export Corporation.

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