IT Body: Trade with China Top of High-tech Agenda

WASHINGTON (01/24/2000) - Establishing permanent normal trade relations with China is at the top of a list of issues affecting high-technology companies that the American Electronics Association (AEA) will urge the U.S. Congress to act on in the remaining year of its session.

Leaders of both large and small companies among the 3,000 members of the AEA have told the organization's leaders that further opening up trade with China should be a top priority of the U.S. government, AEA officials said today in a conference call.

The U.S. and China reached bilateral agreement on China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in November of last year. [See "US, China Reach WTO Deal," Nov. 15, 1999.] The AEA supported that agreement and now, at the urging of its members, wants Congress to take the next critical step and adopt permanent normal trade relation status for China.

The Chinese government is now negotiating the remaining bilateral market access agreements with about 20 WTO countries, but the agreement with the U.S. was by far the most important, said Tim Bennett, the AEA's senior vice president for international policy.

Later this year, Congress is expected to take up the question on permanent normal trade relations, which is critical because China has already said that unless it receives that status it will not grant U.S. companies access to its market, Bennett said. Additionally, if Congress does not approve permanent normal trade relations with China and all other countries do, their high-technology industries will benefit from liberalized trade with China, while the U.S. companies will not, he added.

The Chinese market is one of the fastest growing for the U.S. high-technology industry. In 1998, the most recent year for which statistics are available, U.S. high-tech companies exported US$3 billion to China, according to the AEA.

The AEA's lobbying efforts on achieving permanent normal trade relation status for China will be spearheaded by its coalition on China, which will assist Congress and other U.S. government officials in understanding key negotiation demands advanced by the technology industry, Bennett said.

"The AEA will unleash the resources of our local 17 councils to explain to members of Congress why the trade agreement makes so much sense to the high-tech sector," Bennett said during today's conference call. "It's clearly in the national economic interest of the United States to lock in the benefits of this agreement."

Among the other items on the AEA agenda is the issue of H-1B visas granted annually to foreigners who work in specialty occupations, said William T.

Archey, president and chief executive officer of AEA. In 1998, Congress increased the number of H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 for last year and this year.

"We would like to see Congress take on the issue once again of H-1B visas," Archey said.

Beyond those two issues, the AEA listed three other agenda items: the taxation of online shopping, changes that could affect how companies compute stock options, and privacy issues facing Web users.

This year's presidential and congressional election campaigns are likely to be a major factor in how much legislative work gets accomplished, Archey said.

The AEA, in Washington, can be reached at +1-202-682-9110.

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