As Congress returns to its business, it is already preparing for one of the most devisive debates in years—on international trade. And that debate will occur shortly after the Fourth Annual CONECT New England Trade and Transportation Conference, in Newport, Rhode Island on April 13 and 14. It will be an important Conference with exciting nationally recognized speakers already confirmed and one of the best evening events on the New England calendar.

And what is that big trade issue impacting every CONECT member and making every member of Congress squirm? CHINA and PROTECTIONISM.

If you want to see a Congressperson twist in the wind. . . .

It is only February, Congress is just back in session, and already the battle lines have formed, the strategy set and the tactics being implemented for the biggest trade battle to be seen in this country since NAFTA. We got a taste of what is to come, when the WTO met in Seattle.

It will not only be the biggest trade issue to be debated, lobbied, and fought over, but also the biggest labor battle, environmental campaign, and human rights initiative of this Presidential Campaign year. Already, Bush is on one side, McCain on the other. Bradley is opposed, and Gore is trying to be both for and against.

And the results will be felt for years to come, by this country generally and most specifically by the persons on the front lines of international trade- the customs brokers and freight forwarders.

The immediate issue is whether the US will extend permanent Normal Trade Status to China, a step necessary if China joins the WTO. If we do, then the WTO will function; if we do not, the WTO global trade regime is in danger.

The National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce have made passage of the required legislation the top priority for this year. The AFL-CIO, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, human rights organizations, Ralph Nader, right-to-life organizations and others, flush from their victory in disrupting the WTO Ministerial Meeting in Seattle, have vowed to defeat the legislation.

What the battle is really about is GLOBALIZATION. Business is for it, because international trade has led to great gains in prosperity. Organized labor is opposed because manufacturing jobs have migrated from the US and Europe to low labor cost countries. Environmentalists blame trade for destruction of the rain forests, decimation of dolphins, turtles and fisheries. Human rights organizations blame trade for leading to prison and child labor, abusive working conditions in factories making everything from Kathie Lee clothing to Nike shoes to rugs. Antiabortion groups vehemently object to China’s population control policies. There is nothing like a cause to rally the troops, to reinvigorate organizations. Fighting globalization, and its most obvious manifestation—trade—is the cause of this year.

If a Democratic Senator or Congressman expects campaign contributions from the largest contributor to the Democratic Party—labor unions—they will have to pledge to oppose China NTR. Another base constituency of the Democratic party, the environmental organizations, will also oppose China NTR. But President Clinton will press his party to vote for China NTR (although he does not want to push so hard that labor will switch their support from his VP Gore to Bradley).

The business community will be just as tough on the other side, pushing to pass China NTR. Business will push Democrats (who have been reaching out to business in recent years) as well as their traditional allies, Republicans. But Republicans will also feel pressure to oppose China, from conservatives who don’t trust China’s military ambitions or China’s abortion practices.

There will be massive demonstrations in the streets of the Nation’s Capitol, labor unions have already visited every Congressional office. Where is the trade community? How many offices have the steamship lines, customs brokers, forwarders, banks, customs and trade lawyers, port authorities, farmers, manufacture