If passage of normal relations with the U.S. does not occur, “it will push us away from the more reasonable people in China,” said former U.S. ambassador to China, James Sasser, who spoke to Atlanta businesspeople at the Capital City Club last week.

Mr. Sasser and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) spoke to representatives of such firms as the Coca-Cola Co., Home Depot, Ford Motor Co., Georgia-Pacific Corp. and the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-organized event.

Both speakers emphasized that while passage of the bill that would give U.S. firms access to the China market looks likely in the Senate, its fate in the House is not easy to predict and they each asked company leaders to influence their colleagues and congressmen.

Although there are elements in China that do not want the country to get close to the U.S., said Mr. Sasser, an 18-year senator from Tennessee who served as ambassador from 1996-99, “there are economic reformers, people who want to reform the country and bring it closer to the West.”

He added that the chances of China, which desires recognition as a significant world power, behaving on the military front is more likely if it has normal trade relations with the U.S.

“The U.S.  has nothing to lose from the passage of the bill,” he said, adding that U.S. agriculture companies in particular could be the big winners in normalized relations with China.

“There are more cigarette smokers in China than there are people in the U.S.,” said Mr. Sasser, “a fact not lost on tobacco-growing states.”

Tobacco is Georgia’s fourth largest agricultural export, totaling $71 million in 1998. The state’s poultry sector, which had exports of $375 million, would also greatly benefit from China’s market.

As that country’s market develops, said Mr. Sasser, the Chinese diet will become more sophisticated and the demand for meat and other foodstuffs that China cannot adequately supply will increase.

Mr. Sasser told GlobalFax after the event that the majority of U.S. businesses already located in China are doing well, especially Motorola and General Motors, but admitted that a number of U.S. firms do fail in China, in large part because of the lack of transparency in conducting business and an absence of established rules and regulations. Membership in the World Trade Organization,  to be voted on in June, should provide that structure, he said.

For information, call Pat Gartland at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at (770) 951-8864.

                        by Melissa Pracht