The United States Senate has set in motion a “new era of opportunity and prosperity” for U.S. companies due its approval of permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status for China, the Grocery Manufacturers of America said today. The Senate passed the bill overwhelming by a vote of 83-15.

“The Senate deserves credit for approving this legislation without amendment, clearing the way for the President to sign it into law,” said GMA President and CEO C. Manly Molpus. “For the first time ever, U.S. consumer product manufacturers will gain the right to import and distribute products into China without going through state trading enterprises or middlemen. Most importantly, China will now be required to play by the same rules and disciplines of the multilateral trading system as all other WTO member countries.

“The strong bipartisan support for this legislation paves the way for a new era of opportunity and prosperity for the food, beverage, and consumer products industry, and the millions of people they employ,” added Molpus.

Passage of the China trade bill has been a top priority for GMA and its member companies during the 106th Congress. More than 40 GMA member company CEOs, in letters sent to every member of the House and Senate, urged passage of the PNTR bill so the U.S. could “enjoy the benefits of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization.”

“With more than 20 percent of the world’s population and a rapidly growing middle class, China represents a major market for exports,” said Molpus. “In fact, processed food exports alone are expected to increase by over one billion dollars annually, the largest gain in the agricultural sector, as a result of China’s entry into the WTO.”

GMA also worked for passage of the legislation as a part of the Agriculture Coalition for U.S.-China Trade and the Business Coalition for U.S.-China Trade.