- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

The House this week is expected to continue to lead on trade, leaving the Senate dragging behind with protectionist deadweight. The House will likely be voting on a motion to call a conference with the Senate to iron out the differences between the trade bills passed in the two chambers of Congress. In some cases, those differences are substantive.

Among the trade legislation to be examined is trade promotional authority, which upholds the ability of Congress to either reject or approve a trade bill, but not make any changes to an already-negotiated trade deal. In December, the House gave the president full trade authority. The Senate, on the other hand, passed in May a kind of trade authority lite, by including a curious loophole in its legislation.

Under the Senate bill, Congress could vote separately on any elements of a trade pact that would change current U.S. anti-dumping laws or curb America's ability to contest unfair trade practices by other countries. The White House has clearly called this provision a killer amendment, and it should stick to its stated resolve. Lawmakers could exploit this loophole to unfairly protect native industries that are unable to effectively compete with exports that they claim are "dumped," or sold below production costs, in U.S. markets.

Third World countries often complain that anti-dumping legislation is a thinly veiled protectionist measure aimed directly at them. Poor countries can often produce labor-intensive products at considerably lower prices than U.S. competitors, since wages are much lower in those countries. U.S. producers then try to keep such products out of the reach of U.S. consumers by claiming they were dumped on the U.S. market. This not only shortchanges consumers, it also prevents poor countries from exporting the very goods and services they can most competitively produce.

Congress is hardly in a position to wag fingers at poor countries for "dumping" their products. After all, government subsidies are the principle facilitator of dumping, and Congress has become quite partial to subsidies, as evidenced by the U.S. farm bill, which bilks the U.S. taxpayer by granting farmers plenty of pork subsidies.

Simply put, America and other developed countries must give poor countries a chance to truly benefit from freer trade by dismantling protectionist measures. This is the commitment the White House and European countries made to the underdeveloped world at the World Trade Organization meeting in Qatar in November. Moreover, forging stronger relationships through trade is a critical tool in President Bush's anti-terror arsenal. Also, freer trade will help keep the U.S. economy vibrant by opening new markets for U.S. goods, injecting a healthy dose of competition from abroad and expanding Americans' purchasing power by giving them access to lower-priced products.

The House is doing its part to support the president's global leadership on trade. The Senate must follow in kind and Mr. Bush should accept no trade-authority substitutes.

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