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Legislation to Press China on Trade Policies Moves Ahead in US Congress

A Chinese boy looks at a display of Chinese currency in Beijing

Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives have succeeded 255 to 168 votes in a second attempt to push through legislation aimed at putting more pressure on Beijing to change its trade practices.

Earlier this week, majority Republicans failed in their attempt to have the House approve legislation called the U.S. Trade Rights Enforcement Act, which failed to gain the required two-thirds majority required for passage.

Among other things, the bill would enable U.S. companies to seek additional duties (taxes) against heavily-subsidized products from China and other so-called "non-market" economies, and also address currency manipulation and intellectual property issues, and require new reports on U.S.-China trade.

Republicans brought the legislation back to the House floor under different debate rules Wednesday, portraying it as an effective tool for trade enforcement.

They also hoped that by pushing the bill through in close proximity to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) being considered by the House, they could help improve chances for that separate legislation being approved.

Doing so would also shine a spotlight on Democrats taking the politically risky step of voting against a measure aimed at helping the United States stand its ground in the trade relationship with Beijing.

"This bill, for the first time, will change trade policy toward somebody like China who is cheating our economy and stealing our jobs. We have the ability today, to make a statement, to stand up for every worker in America who gets up, plays by the rules, goes to work and tries to build the best products in the world, and they do," said Congressman Mike Rogers is a Republican from the state of Michigan.

Democrats accused Republicans of limiting debate, and blocking proposed amendments that might do a better job of addressing issues in the U.S.-China trade relationship.

Congressman Jim McGovern is a Massachusetts Democrat. "We are very concerned about the fact that China is cheating and not keeping its word with its trade obligations. Our problem with this bill is that it is largely symbolic, that it doesn't do what we want it to do. In fact, if press reports are to be believed, this bill is being brought to the floor today as ineffective as it is, so that members on the other side can have some cover to vote for CAFTA," he said.

The Bush administration says the recent decision by China to allow a limited devaluation of its currency, along with ongoing negotiations on other issues, are proof current policies are helping to level the playing field in trade with China.

Congressman Mark Souder defended the way Republicans brought the China trade bill to a vote, saying the legislation will provide another tool for the administration in dealing with Beijing. "Incrementally, and that is politics, it isn't some dramatic speech, it isn't denouncing China, it is actually making incremental policy changes and we just got the double, with this bill and the currency re-evaluation, we have made the first progress with China that we have had in years, and I think we should be commended, and I think we should try to get a unanimous vote after the politics are done," he said.

Democrats attempted but failed to have the House approve their alternative bill they asserted would be more effective regarding currency issues with China.

There is companion legislation in the Senate to the House bill on trade with China, but it has yet to come to a vote in that chamber.

Debate in the House came as several congressional committees examine other issues relating to China, including Beijing's efforts to acquire energy assets,China's growing military power, and its economic influence in Africa.