Lawmakers Press U.S. Trade Negotiators To 'Stand Firm' on U.S. Trade Laws at WTO

Original Publication Date: 
30 May, 2005

A bipartisan group of some two dozen members of Congress May 27 called on U.S. negotiators to 'stand firm' against efforts to weaken U.S. trade laws in talks at the World Trade Organization scheduled to be held the week of May 30.

The members said in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Portman and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez that seeking to undermine laws remains a top priority of many WTO member countries.

'In our view, it is imperative that U.S. negotiators put on the table equally strong proposals to strengthen existing rules--something that by and large has not been done to this point, even as talks are moving toward an advanced stage,' the letter said. 'This course of action is advisable both to counterbalance objectionable proposals and to buttress existing disciplines.'

The lawmakers sent the letter as negotiators from the Office of the U.S.Trade Representative and the Commerce Department, including Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Import Administration Joseph Spetrini, were preparing to head to Geneva for a key meeting of the WTO Negotiating Group on Rules set for June 3.

Congress Will Not Allow 'Compromise.'

Rep. Philip S. English (R-Pa.), who signed the letter, said that U.S. trade remedy laws 'have a purpose and are used only when others break the rules.'

'Congress will not allow this last line of defense to be compromised in any way,' said English, who is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The letter to Portman and Gutierrez, signed by English and 21 other members of Congress, said that foreign countries continue to employ unfair and discriminatory trade practices that directly affect U.S. workers and industries.

'These practices distort markets and create platforms for dumped and subsidized exports, and create conditions that lead to export surges,'the letter said. 'Our trade remedy laws and international trade agreements serve as the primary, and often only, recourse to Americans injured by these practices.'

The letter said that WTO disciplines have already been weakened by a number of dispute panel or Appellate Body decisions, including more than 20 involving U.S. antidumping, countervailing duty, and safeguard laws where the terms of the relevant WTO agreement--and in some cases the express standard of review--have been ignored.

It said that how the WTO decides to deal with the rules-review issue in the current round of trade talks is likely to be 'pivotal in determining how Americans, as well as many members of Congress, will view the outcome of the negotiations.'

'Without maintaining strong tools to police our domestic market from illegally trade imports,' the letter said, 'the consensus for trade liberalization will dissipate.'

Those signing the letter, in addition to English, included Reps. Charles E.Rangel (D-N.Y.), ranking Democrat on the Way and Means Committee; Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee; Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn.); Melissa A. Hart (R-Pa.); Jerry Weller (R-Ill.); Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.); and Bob Ney (R-Ohio).

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Peter F. Allgeier, testifying at a hearing of the Ways and Means Committee on May 17, said that negotiations were continuing in the WTO on subsidies and antidumping, and that there has already been a 'convergence' between the United States and other countries on a number of issues, including the importance of creating greater transparency, certainty, and predictability in the ways in which trade rules are administered--'and we have vigorously questioned any proposal that would undermine the effectiveness of our trade laws.'

'We have also seen that there is enormous interest in building out the subsidy disciplines further to address new and emerging issues, including those that challenge the environment,' Allgeier said.

U.S. and European officials, meanwhile, said in a related development that Portman and European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson had spoken by telephone May 27 and discussed a 'range of issues,' which are understood to have included ways to make further progress in the WTO negotiations and the dispute between the United States and the European Union over limiting government subsidies for aircraft industry.