November 26, 2004

U.S. Promises to Protect Trade Interests

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration said Friday it would comply with a World Trade Organization that penalizes some U.S. exports even as it tries to get Congress to change the law that prompted the sanctions.

Speaking to reporters in Texas where he was vacationing, President Bush said that "we've worked hard to comply with the WTO. I think it's important that all nations comply with WTO rulings. I'll work with Congress to get into compliance."

But Bush also said, "We expect the WTO, as well, to trade our trading partners as they treat us."

Earlier, a spokesman for U.S. Trade Representative Bob Zoellick indicated the administration believes the sanctions ultimately may not be necessary. "We are continuing to work with Congress to bring the U.S. into compliance and we are consulting with our trading partners on these efforts," said Richard Mills.

He said that officials already had notified the WTO that "we intend to comply with our international obligations in this matter."

"It's important to remember that these issues do not affect the ability of the United States to continue enforcing our trade laws to make sure Americans are being treated fairly," Mills said, after the WTO in Geneva, Switzerland, approved new sanctions aimed at retaliating against American exports.

The WTO acted because the U.S. Congress has not yet repealed a law that America's trading rivals consider anticompetitive and protectionist.

U.S. exports of cod, textiles, glassware, mobile homes, apples and other goods face new tariffs as a result of the decision by the WTO, an international trade body.

The decision was expected. The trading dispute centers on a 2000 law, named for Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., which lets the U.S. government fine foreign companies that it judges to be selling goods here at below-market prices, with the proceeds going to U.S. companies. The law was written with the steel industry in mind.

The WTO backed claims that the amendment breaks trade laws by punishing exporters to the United States twice because they are first fined, and then those fines are passed on to their competitors.