- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

The World Trade Organization yesterday ruled against a U.S. law that allows companies here to be paid millions of dollars collected in duties from foreign competitors.
The Bush administration said it will comply with the international body's decision.
But Sen. Robert C. Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who wrote the measure, commonly known as the Byrd amendment, said the WTO wrongly challenged the ability of Congress to enact laws and to decide how money is spent.
The law in question allows U.S. companies to pocket money that foreign rivals pay when they sell their products here. The duties are imposed on goods from overseas when domestic companies complain, and the U.S. government agrees, that they face unfair foreign competition.
Mr. Byrd ushered the measure into law as part of the Agriculture appropriations bill in 2000. The legislation, officially called the Continued Dumping and Subsidy Offset Act, made possible a payment of $329 million to about 1,200 companies last year and $230 million in 2001, according to U.S. Customs Service, which is administering the program.
Before the amendment, the money was put into the U.S. Treasury.
In July 2001, the 15-nation European Union and eight countries complained to the WTO that the act broke international trade rules. In September last year, a WTO panel agreed, and the United States appealed the ruling. The appeal was answered yesterday.
"We are reviewing the report to assess the best compliance options and will discuss these with the [House] Ways and Means and [Senate] Finance committees, and all other interested members of Congress," the U.S. trade representative's office said in a statement.
Mr. Byrd said the WTO ruling was "ridiculous" and challenged the president to leave the law in place.
"It is plain wrong to urge the repeal of a law that supports American workers and companies which are under constant attack by unfair foreign trading practices," he said in a statement.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Finance Committee, said he plans to work with the administration and Senate colleagues before deciding on the next step.
"Of course, we need to comply with our WTO commitments, win or lose. That's part of expecting other nations to comply when they lose cases against us," he said, adding that the Byrd amendment was slipped into an appropriations conference report without full debate in the Senate.
"I'm not surprised that a bill that was never considered by the committee of expertise or even the full Senate is found to violate our international commitments," Mr. Grassley said in a statement.
U.S. officials were not surprised by the WTO decision, though the trade representative's office said in the statement that it is "disappointed with the appellate body's findings concerning the funds disbursed under the act."
In 2001, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky said the amendment was "a bad idea."
Companies and officials yesterday were more concerned that the ruling would reach deeper into measures that the United States uses to safeguard domestic industries from foreign competition.
The measures, in the form of anti-dumping and countervailing duty laws, allow U.S. Customs to assess fees at the border and raise the price of foreign goods when the government finds that domestic companies are injured by overseas competitors. They are among the strongest measures in the U.S. arsenal to shield companies from outside pressure.
"The findings in this dispute do not affect the underlying U.S. anti-dumping and countervailing duty laws, and the United States will continue to vigorously enforce those laws to ensure that U.S. industries, farmers, and workers are not forced to compete with unfairly traded imports," the trade representative's statement said.


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