WASHINGTON, March 15 (Reuters) - Vice President Al Gore will personally lobby lawmakers to support a landmark trade agreement with China despite opposition from his allies in organized labor, a spokesman said on Wednesday.
"He (Gore) will talk with members of Congress and speak out publicly on the need to pass this legislation, this year, this session, right now," Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said.
For months, Gore has kept his distance from the controversial trade agreement, hoping to avoid a confrontation with organized labor and other groups that oppose it.
But now that he has clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, White House officials say Gore is ready to take on a more aggressive role in the administration's campaign.
The trade agreement, which would pave the way for China's entry into the Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO), calls on Beijing to open a wide range of markets, from agriculture to telecommunications.
In exchange for China opening its markets, the White House says Congress must grant Beijing permanent normal trade relations (NTR) -- a status it now gets only after an annual congressional review.
Permanent NTR legislation, introduced by President Bill Clinton last week, would guarantee Chinese goods the same low-tariff access to U.S. markets as products from nearly every other nation.
The administration has asked Congress to approve the legislation by June, fearing further delay would bog it down in election politics. The U.S. general election is in November.
But Republican congressional leaders have warned Clinton that permanent NTR is in peril because of stiff opposition from House Democrats, and urged Gore to join the lobbying campaign.
"He (Gore) believes essentially China's entry in the WTO is a good deal for the American people, a good deal for labor, opens up markets for our goods," Lehane said.
Lehane denied published reports last month that Gore had privately assured the AFL-CIO labor federation that he would add labor and environmental provisions to the China pact if elected president in November.
"It's good as it is, right now," Lehane said.
But he added that Gore wanted future trade agreements to include more provisions protecting workers and the environment.: