- The Washington Times - Friday, August 24, 2001

GENEVA (AP) The World Trade Organization agreed yesterday to investigate complaints by a large group of countries against a U.S. law that allows distribution of fines collected from foreign firms for unfair pricing to the U.S. companies that brought the cases.
It agreed to appoint a panel of experts to look at the so-called Byrd amendment, under which tens of millions of dollars in fines collected by the U.S. government will be handed over to companies that lodge complaints against foreign exporters judged to be "dumping" products at artificially low prices.
The case is backed by the largest number of complainants in WTO history Australia, Brazil, Chile, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Thailand and the 15-nation European Union. Mexico and Canada the United States' partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement have brought separate cases and the investigations into those will likely be approved next month.
The complainants contend that the law punishes exporters twice first they are fined and then those fines are handed to their foreign competitors.
They say the U.S. rules allow the money to be used for a wide range of purposes, including purchase of equipment, research, training, health care and pension benefits.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who sponsored the legislation, has said money does not change hands if foreign trading partners play by the rules.
"The challenge by the European Union and eight other nations to the 'Byrd amendment' is nothing more than an effort to seek the blessing of the World Trade Organization to evade U.S. trade laws without fear of consequence," Mr. Byrd said in a statement.
"These penalties assessed against foreign companies should be made available to the American industry and to the workers who were cheated out of profits and paychecks by unfair trade practices. This is a case of justice," he said.
The Byrd amendment was written with the steel industry in mind, and almost half the cases covered by it are in the steel industry.
In the first six months after the amendment was adopted, the U.S. Customs Service collected $50 million in fines. The money cannot be distributed to companies until the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
The panel has six months to produce its report.

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