- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

The proposal for a global trade accord that the United States signed on to this week is already threatening congressional support for the authority that the Bush administration needs to win approval of new trade pacts.

With the decision by the World Trade Organization to open new talks on freeing up world commerce, key members of Congress are balking at a requirement that the United States negotiate changes to laws against "unfair" trading.

Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, yesterday criticized U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick for the deal he made in the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar. "The Constitution assigns the responsibility for international trade to the Congress," he said on the Senate floor yesterday. "Yet the administration is now acting without a mandate from Congress."

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Mr. Baucus wields power over trade legislation. President Bush has said he wants "fast-track" negotiating authority that allows him to sign trade pacts and submit them to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments.

The bill has bogged down in the House after being passed out of the Ways and Means Committee in October. With dozens of Republicans sure to oppose it, Mr. Bush will need Democrats' backing to get a House majority.

Proposed changes to U.S. laws against "dumping" and subsidies topped Mr. Baucus' list of complaints. Dumping occurs when a company exports a product at a lower price than it charges in its home market. The rule also provides for penalties if a company gets subsidies from a foreign government.

In the Qatar agreement, Mr. Zoellick promised that the United States would negotiate on the subject. With virtually all of the WTO's 141 other members demanding this concession, the move was one of a few reasons why the deal was possible at all, trade officials said.

In Qatar, Mr. Zoellick defended his actions by highlighting that the United States will now be able to pursue an "offensive agenda" of going after countries that use similar laws against American exports.

He added that U.S. negotiators will press for the elimination of subsidies and other foreign government supports that make dumping possible in the first place.

"We also insisted that any negotiation must address the underlying unfair practices, not just the [penalties] applied to those practices," he said.

Mr. Zoellick, who heads for Capitol Hill today to brief lawmakers on the Qatar talks, will enjoy backing from some key members. Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican, urged him to take the deal in Qatar, as did Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Finance Committee.

Trade laws have traditionally enjoyed broad, bipartisan support. The House passed a resolution 410-4 last week urging Mr. Zoellick not to weaken them. Senators wrote to him earlier this year with the same message.

In the House, some members had one eye on the fast-track legislation as they heard the news from Qatar. Rep. Phil English, Pennsylvania Republican, supports fast-track, but said Mr. Zoellick's stance may have stacked the deck against the bill.

"I am disappointed that this agreement goes forward without a categorical position that we are not renegotiating the anti-dumping rules," Mr. English said.

The steel industry has relied heavily on anti-dumping laws for decades to stop imports it says are aimed at driving domestic manufacturers out of business. The companies and their union, the United Steelworkers of America, as well as other business that use the laws are now pressing a campaign to stop further U.S. concessions in the WTO.

"The outcome on anti-dumping can complicate and possibly tip the balance," said Alan Wolff, a steel trade lawyer with Dewey Ballantine. "The reasons for acceding [to other countries demands] are not going to be compelling with Congress."

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