WASHINGTON — Putting a stamp of bipartisanship on efforts to find compromise on China trade, a key House Republican versed in Asian affairs and a Democratic trade expert on Tuesday unveiled a joint proposal to answer concerns about human rights and other issues raised by a controversial trade normalization bill.
The proposal by Reps. Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.) and Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.) was billed as a "draft framework," leaving plenty of wiggle room for retooling the plan as House leaders scramble to find a slim majority to pass the trade bill in a vote scheduled in two weeks.
But even if the proposal is revised, Bereuter's decision to lend his name to the compromise is significant because the Nebraska Republican, an 11-term lawmaker and chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on Asia, is a moderate known for reaching across party lines.
Until Tuesday, Levin had been toiling more or less on his own--with only qualified approval, at best, from key Republicans.
"It's my sense that the bipartisan result of a legislative process like this should address the justifiable concerns we have with the practices that exist in China," said Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), a leading House Republican and advocate of the trade bill. "And we can have a package that will help win the very, very important vote we're facing."
The main legislation before Congress would grant China permanent, normal trade ties, a step President Clinton says is necessary to enable U.S. businesses to take full advantage of an agreement negotiated last year to improve access to Chinese markets.
Currently, China's trade status is subject to an annual congressional review.
The vote on the trade bill is expected to be close in the House. Dozens of members are still undecided, with many searching for compromise. Passage in the Senate is all but assured.
Regardless of the outcome, China expects soon to join the Geneva-based World Trade Organization, which polices global commerce.
The centerpiece of the Bereuter-Levin proposal is the creation of a new commission to monitor human rights, labor rights and religious freedom in China and promote representative democracy in a country now dominated by a central Communist regime.
The commission would include nine members from the House, nine from the Senate and five presidential appointees. It would be modeled on the Helsinki Commission that monitored rights in the former Soviet bloc.
Other provisions include an "anti-surge" measure that aims to help U.S. businesses defend themselves when Chinese imports in a particular sector flood the American market, a government task force to monitor and enforce bans on importation of products made by forced labor and a statement encouraging the timely entry of Taiwan into the WTO.
Critics said that such proposals are toothless and unlikely to draw more support for the trade bill. A draft version that circulated Monday drew a tepid response from many interest groups on both sides of the issue.
"While approval of [the trade bill] is overwhelmingly in the U.S. national interest," Bereuter said in a prepared statement, "this draft companion framework is offered to address congressional concerns about Chinese compliance with their [leaders'] WTO promises, human rights practices in China and Taiwan's entry into the WTO."
Levin, who has been testing, repackaging and honing his ideas for weeks, called the proposals "a hard-headed and common-sense approach to bringing China into the world trading system."
Times staff writer Tyler Marshall contributed to this report.