WASHINGTON - President Clinton signed legislation Tuesday to permanently liberalize trade with China and give banks access to one of the world's largest markets.

The measure, passed by the Senate last month and the House in July, is expected to boost international trade, which banks play a large part in financing, and make it easier for multinational banks to set up shop in China.

Steve Bartlett, president of the Financial Services Roundtable, said permanent normal trade relations with China "will be profoundly good for the American economy and, therefore, profoundly good for the financial services industry."

A spokesman for the Independent Community Bankers of America said community bankers are hoping the measure will help financially struggling farmers who were hit by droughts and low crop prices in the past four years. "When the family farmers are hurting out there in small-town Iowa or Nebraska, it affects more than the farmers," he said. "The entire community is hurting."

About 40% of the association's members serve family farmers and agricultural communities.

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