- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2002

The Bush administration's growing flirtation with protectionism is fast becoming an ugly affair. After the administration scorned U.S. trading partners with an increase in steel duties, the White House slapped Canadian wood exports with another wayward tariff increase. Adding insult to injury, the U.S. International Trade Commission voted this week against America's year-old attempt to apply anti-dumping duties on Canadian tomatoes. The administration is clearly falling astray of its professed commitment to free trade.

The White House recently hit Canadian soft lumber exporters with a U.S. tariff of 35 percent, which is scheduled to become effective next month, in response to what they said was Canada's unfair dumping of its products in U.S. markets. But the administration's argument was severely undermined this week when Weyerhaeuser, a U.S. lumber company which also owns a Canadian timber concern, charged that the U.S. measure is unfounded and said it will likely challenge it. "The notion that you would dump in the [U.S.] market where you are active defies reason," said Dave Larsen, a Weyerhaeuser spokesman, adding "You risk trying to be rational in this situation and there is no rational explanation." And in trying to protect U.S. wood producers, the administration has failed to consider U.S. reliance on Canadian lumber.

Surprisingly, there has long been much ado about lumber in trade circles. When NAFTA was signed in 1994, soft wood was kept out of free-trade items, since the industry was so competitive even then. Eight years later, the Bush administration is still trying to protect U.S. soft wood producers.

This week, the administration was also chagrined by a U.S. trade agency's ruling on Canadian tomatoes. The U.S. International Trade Commission, an independent agency, voted on Tuesday that greenhouse tomatoes from Canada aren't hurting U.S. tomato growers. The Commerce Department had earlier found that Canadian producers were selling the tomatoes in the United States well below production cost. A week earlier, Canada had demonstrated how infectious protectionist posturing can be, and levied duties of as much as 71 percent on more than $100 million worth of U.S. tomatoes.

It is a shame the administration hasn't controlled its impulses to raise tariffs. Its forays into steel and lumber industry protection are a detriment to America's global image on trade. If the White House doesn't quickly change course, it could indelibly mar its reputation.

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