It has become one of Washington's least productive rituals, the duel each spring over trade with China. Will Congress do as the White House wants and continue normal trade relations (NTR), or will security worriers on the right join with human rights and labor advocates on the left to prevent that?The question might seem to lack drama, as Congress never has refused an extension of the NTR status. . . . But passage occasionally has been nip and tuck, and the issue inevitably provides opportunities for some serious China bashing . . . .

The legislation before Congress this year would . . . make permanent the current U.S. trade relationship with China. There would be no more annual votes. But there's one not-so-little problem: The issue is linked to China's bid for membership in the World Trade Organization. And that has called into play the mindless anti-WTO movement that so effectively captured the world's attention in Seattle. . . .

If Congress refused to approve permanent NTR, that would not keep China out of the WTO. But it would relieve Beijing of the barrier-lifting burden it accepted in the U.S. trade agreement. That would deny U.S. businesses and workers the benefits of open Chinese markets.

Meanwhile, other WTO members - including the European Union - would use the landmark U.S.-China agreement as the starting point for negotiating their own, perhaps better, trade deals with China. . . .

For years, American markets have been pretty much open to Chinese goods - generating tens of billions of dollars in trade surpluses for China. Now the Chinese have agreed to open their markets to American goods. Let 'em, for goodness' sake. Even allowing for election-year squirrelishness, Congress surely will see the wisdom in that. Don't you think?


Drug lords, communist rebel groups and right-wing death squads are tearing Colombia apart. And cocaine and crack cocaine are tearing America apart. But the problem is even bigger than U.S. drug fighters believed.

The Central Intelligence Agency calculates that Colombia can actually produce twice as much cocaine than earlier thought. That's frightening because most Colombian cocaine is smuggled into the United States. . . .

President Clinton's request for $1.3 billion in aid to provide dozens of helicopters and other equipment for Colombian anti-drug units to take on the drug lords and drug-supported rebels should be granted by Congress.

Fear that the United States might be drawn into a civil war between guerrilla forces and the government in Colombia is real, but such a possibility is small.

The fact is that the drug producers can be beaten. They have been in other countries . . . through aggressive police work and programs to persuade farmers to grow alternative crops.

The same can be done in Colombia, if honest Colombians dedicated to stamping out the drug trade are given the necessary tools to fight the war.

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