Environment Leads U.S. Trade Outreach to China

WASHINGTON, DC, January 31, 2001 (ENS) - The environment, air and water pollution, energy development, and aviation safety are the top priorities as a U.S. federal agency reopens relations with China on a level closed since 1989.

After an 11 year halt, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency is restarting its grant assistance program in China.

A national interest waiver issued January 13 in the last week of the Clinton administration lifted the 1989 sanction that suspended the agency's operations in China after the killing of pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The waiver was agreed to by officials from the State Department, the National Security Council and the Commerce Department. President Bill Clinton declared the grant of authority for the Trade and Development Agency to operate in China once again.

The agency fosters the creation of jobs for Americans by helping U.S. companies pursue overseas business opportunities through the funding of feasibility studies, orientation visits, specialized training grants, business workshops, and various forms of technical assistance.

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Four coke ovens and two blast furnaces in Benxi, a center of iron, steel and cement production in northeastern China, spew clouds of pollutants into the air. (Photo courtesy World Bank)
The projects that result are intended to provide mutual economic and environmental benefits for the United States and the corresponding country, in this case, China. On its website, the agency states that it is, "committed to promoting environmentally sound and sustainable development."

"The Trade and Development Agency intends to operate its program in China just as it operates all around the world - as a market driven, export assistance entity," said agency deputy director Barbara Bradford.

Trade and Development Agency (TDA) funded feasibility studies are conducted by American companies and are designed to get the U.S. private sector in on the ground floor of projects that may generate significant exports from the United States.

Prior to 1989, TDA had a program in China with $24 million in grants facilitating $1.4 billion in exports, Bradford said.

TDA regional director for Asia, Geoff Jackson, will begin the renewed program with a business development trip to Beijing and Shanghai in February. He will meet with potential Chinese project sponsors as well as members of the U.S. private sector currently pursuing projects in the country.

Many of the initial projects will focus on air pollution, water and wastewater, said Jackson.

"The U.S. business interests wanted to do it," he said. "It is basically a tool for the U.S. companies...The program helps humanity as well as it helps U.S. exports."

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Industrial landscape in China's northeastern Liaoning Province, home to 25 million urban dwellers. (Photo courtesy World Bank)
The agency has no budget just for China, only for Asia as a whole, and the projects compete against each other for funding of feasibility studies and technical sessions. "We're only the facilitator," said Jackson, "our foreign competition, they all have had trade agencies operating for many years."

Jackson says that European and Japanese companies have not been constrained in developing their exports to China as have American businesses which have been limited by U.S. foreign policy after Tienanmen Square.

"Human rights are very important. We applaud those on the Hill that look out for the values of the United States, but we're not a policy making agency, Jackson said.

In late February and early March, after Jackson returns from his fact finding trip to China, the agency will organize a domestic outreach session to gain insight from U.S. companies on potential sectors for TDA involvement.

Bradford says the agency will also give priority to contract opportunities in China supported by Asian Development Bank and World Bank loans.