- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Expanded trade has benefitted a great many people and businesses in the United States. But there are also businesses, workers and farmers who have been hurt because other countries employ unfair and illegal trade practices. Fortunately, this nation has enacted laws that are designed to help American workers and businesses get back on their feet by giving them a way to seek relief from the effects of these illegal trade practices.

How important are these trade remedy laws? Consider the hundreds of U.S. lumber mill jobs lost many of them in Minnesota and Idaho since March 2001, when the Canadian Softwood Lumber Agreement expired. Once that agreement ran out, Canada dumped lumber relentlessly into our market, even though the value was already low, thus further depressing U.S. timber prices.

Under current law, the U.S. timber industry was able to appeal its grievance about unfair Canadian practices directly to the Department of Commerce (DOC). After a year-long study, the DOC ruled that the Canadian government was unfairly subsidizing and dumping softwood lumber into the market. It recommended a duty on Canadian lumber that the International Trade Commission ruled will be enforced at 27 percent. Had it not been for existing U.S. laws, American businesses and workers would have been helpless to correct this injustice.

The timber industry is not alone in dealing with unfair trade. The high-tech, textile and agricultural sectors have all cried foul to trade partners. Pitting American workers against the deep pockets of foreign governments is unacceptable. I support free trade, but it's only effective when it's fair. We must insist on fair trade at a minimum and have the tools in place to provide for it.

Obviously, many of our trade partners would love to see these trade remedy laws weakened, because it would allow them to flood the U.S. market with goods that are unfairly subsidized, or which bypass trade agreements, hurting American businesses and putting Americans out of work. In fact, some foreign countries are only willing to enter into a deal with the United States if these laws are weakened as part of the agreement.

I support Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) because it is important for the president to have the authority to arrange trade deals with countries that could otherwise be delayed by a lengthy Senate approval process. However, the United States Senate doesn't want to see the trade remedy laws that it passed to help American workers and businesses used as bargaining chips in trade negotiations. In fact, last May, I joined 61 of my fellow senators in signing a letter to President Bush that expressed our unified opposition to any trade agreement that undermines these U.S. trade remedy laws.

Despite this, the current TPA bill before the Senate does nothing to prevent these laws from being weakened. If the president were to negotiate a trade agreement including provisions that weaken trade remedy laws, the "Fast Track" rules in this bill would only allow the Senate to ratify or reject the agreement in its entirety. Though such a rejection would protect American businesses, it would deny them potential new trading partners for their products and services.

Instead of forcing the Senate to choose whether to bring down an entire package, Sen. Mark Dayton and I, along with a bipartisan group of Senate co-sponsors, proposed an amendment that was passed by a majority of my colleagues. Our amendment addresses this problem by allowing but not requiring Congress to debate parts of trade agreements that threaten the ability of U.S. industries and workers to seek remedy for unfair trade. The rest of the trade agreement would remain intact as negotiated by the president and can proceed on its way to his desk.

This amendment to improve the TPA bill is being offered by a broad coalition of senators 13 Republicans and 13 Democrats many of whom are unequivocally in favor of trade promotion authority for the president.

With the recent passage of this amendment, the U.S. Senate is sending our trading partners a very clear message that the Congress of the United States will stand together with the administration to safeguard the right for American businesses, workers, and farmers to enjoy the benefits of free and fair trade.

Sen. Larry Craig is a Republican from Idaho.

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