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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Some Criticize Gallegly's Indecision

But Backers Defend His Lack of Public Stand on China Trade Bill

May 24, 2000|COLL METCALFE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With potentially millions of dollars at stake, some Ventura County growers joined Democratic challenger Michael Case in condemning Rep. Elton Gallegly for failing to state how he will vote today on whether to normalize U.S. trade relations with China.

Some farmers criticized Gallegly, a Simi Valley Republican, for remaining undecided on such watershed legislation that could result in an economic boon for the county.

"What bothers me is that we've been talking to him for nine months about this and we still don't know where he stands," said Santa Paula grower Bob Pinkerton, a Case supporter. "This is an important issue, and it's not the kind that you can sit on the fence with."

The House of Representatives today will consider granting China permanent normal trade relations, legislation that supporters say could translate into millions of dollars in additional revenue for area citrus growers.

Case said Gallegly's indecision on the bill is a slap in the face to his constituency, which includes hundreds of farmers in a largely agricultural district. Gallegly's 23rd District encompasses all of Ventura County, except for most of the Conejo Valley.

"If he really thought he were a champion on this issue he would have been in the debate since the beginning to voice those concerns and create policies that work for the people of Ventura County and the nation," said Case, who is challenging Gallegly in the November general election. "As it is, he hasn't been there and hasn't been up front with people. . . . What I think he is doing is hiding out to see how he can get the biggest political bang."

Gallegly could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But a spokesman for the congressman said that Gallegly, who has twice voted against extending China's most-favored-nation trade status, is concerned that the proposed legislation does not include enough protections of U.S. interests.

Specifically, Gallegly has said that he wants guarantees that U.S. businesses would be able to compete on a level playing field, to ensure that the bill is equitable, said spokesman Tom Pfeifer. Gallegly is also concerned about China's aggressive military stance toward Taiwan and South Asia and the recent theft of U.S. nuclear secrets, he said.

Also, the congressman believes there is little in the bill to enforce compliance, a serious concern given China's past failures to live up to other agreements, Pfeifer said.

"He wants to wait and read the bill to see that those issues have been addressed," Pfeifer said.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), whose district includes the Conejo Valley, has stated that he would vote against the trade agreement for some of the same reasons raised by Gallegly.

Touted as the most important piece of legislation to be taken up by Congress this year, the China trade bill is sweeping in scope and packed with complexities.

It would do away with yearly reviews and debate about most-favored-nation trade status and would assure that Chinese goods have the same low-tariff access to U.S. markets that other countries have.

In return, China would open its markets to the United States and ratchet down tariffs by as much as 28% on such goods as semiconductors, software and lemons.

Not all Ventura County farmers are angered with Gallegly for refusing to state his position before the vote. Gallegly supporters say the bill is not only a momentous piece of trade legislation, but an important bit of foreign policy, marking a major rapprochement with Beijing that they say deserves time and study.

"This is about more than just agriculture," said Rex Laird, executive director of the Ventura County Farm Bureau. "In this kind of issue [members of Congress] have to consider what's best for the country as well as what's best for their constituency, and they don't match up all the time."

Rob Roy, president of the Ventura County Agricultural Assn., agreed that Gallegly should be given the chance to weigh the matter carefully because of the far-reaching political and economic implications.

"Whatever these [growers] might say, Elton Gallegly has been a tremendous supporter of agriculture in his 14 years in office, and I don't think that's changed," he said. "I think that what he's doing is making sure we aren't giving away the house to China."

Every vote is crucial if the China trade bill, which President Clinton said is a legislative priority in his final year in office, is to be approved. Late Tuesday, polls showed the bill heading for a narrow passage.

Pfeifer said the congressman probably would not make up his mind until the House debate is over and the matter actually comes to a vote.

"Like I said, he wants to see the final draft."

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