Even while trade agreements brokered under Clinton helped China's economy to boom and brought Americans cheap goods, both nations have paid dearly.

By William J. Kelly

Part 2 of 3 of a special report from the co-author of a forthcoming book, The People's Republic of Chemicals. Read Part 1.

China's plans to build remote industrial coal complexes to power its economy are putting the country on a trajectory to wipe out global gains in tackling climate change, scientists fear. But other nations share responsibility for China's fossil fuel binge and the toxic air people breathe as a result—especially the United States.

China's pollution scourge has its roots in trade agreements set in motion by President Bill Clinton in the early 1990s that allowed U.S. companies to take advantage of cheap labor and lax environmental standards in the world's most populous nation—where coal energy reigns supreme. Many times the United States helped China finance dirty sources of energy.

As much as one-third of China's carbon load on the atmosphere can be traced to exports of cheap clothes, electronics, machinery and other goods consumed by Americans and Europeans, experts say. And while free trade to the West has made China's economy boom, Chinese people have paid dearly due to the resulting smog from factories and coal-fired power plants.

Mickey Kantor/Credit: Los Angeles Chamber of CommerceMickey Kantor/Credit: Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce"We made a big mistake" by not including environmental safeguards in trade policies with China, said Mickey Kantor, Clinton's chief trade negotiator and later Secretary of Commerce. Now a practicing attorney in Los Angeles with expertise in international relations, Kantor has been shuttling back and forth between the United States and China in one capacity or another for 20 years. He calls China's air "a disaster" and says that each time he visits "it's worse."


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