President Clinton met with leaders of some major U.S. high-tech companies on Thursday to enlist their support in an uphill battle to secure Congress’ blessing for a landmark trade agreement with China. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Clinton stopped in to talk to several of the industry’s top executives while they were at the White House for talks with Chief of Staff John Podesta. “The president’s main focus of his comments to the group was the importance of, early this year, getting NTR (normal trade relations) on China worked through,” Lockhart said. Clinton discussed 『“the importance not only to their particular businesses, which is clearly important, but also to the American economy and to the idea that we can continue this prosperity, we can continue this economic expansion,”』① Lockhart said.
The industry executives who met with Clinton and Podesta included Cisco Systems (NasdaqNM:CSCO - news) CEO John Chambers; Dell Computer Corp. (NasdaqNM:DELL - news) CEO Michael Dell; Intel Corp. (NasdaqNM:INTC - news) Chairman Andrew Grove; Compaq Computer Corp. (NYSE:CPQ - news) CEO Mike Capella; Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HWP - news) CEO Carly Fiornia; NCR Corp. (NYSE:NCR - news) CEO Lars Nyberg; and Silicon Graphics Inc. (NYSE:SGI - news) Chairman and CEO Robert Bishop.
『The White House has said Clinton and his cabinet would launch a major campaign to convince Congress to approve permanent NTR status for China, which would clear the way for China to join the World Trade Organization.』② U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley said on Wednesday it was critical that Congress vote soon on the trade agreement, warning the November election could jeopardize its chance of passage. The trade agreement, hammered out last November after years of negotiation, calls for China to slash tariffs and other barriers in a wide range of markets, from agriculture and automobiles to telecommunications. The agreement is backed by big business and free-trade Republicans, but is under fire from labor union leaders and many of their Democratic allies in Congress, who see more trade with China as a threat to U.S. jobs.
In return for China opening its markets, Congress must grant Beijing permanent NTR status and do away with its annual review process. That process has become increasingly controversial with lawmakers often speaking out against China’s human rights record and recently on allegations that China stole U.S. nuclear secrets. A White House official said the high-tech executives also discussed the “digital divide”—the growing division in the United States between those with easy access to the Internet and those without—in their talks with Podesta. “Both the administration and the CEOs said it was a very positive meeting,” he said. “Both sides pledged to work together.