Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., introduced legislation Thursday to require the United States to announce yearly whether other countries are abiding by trade agreements.
The Trade Agreement Compliance Act, originally introduced last fall, was co-sponsored by 14 senators, 10 of them colleagues of Sen. Baucus on the Finance Committee, including Senate majority leader George Mitchell, D-Maine.The measure would allow any U.S. citizen to petition U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills to declare, as often as once a year, whether agreements are being complied with.
If Mrs. Hills declares that an agreement is being violated and the other country is unwilling to comply, she would be forced to retaliate.
The bill leaves the Bush administration the power to decide whether another country is complying with the law, but the emphasis on reporting is similar to the Super 301 provisions of the 1988 Trade Act. This section of the act authorizes the United States to retaliate with trade sanctions against countries it deems to be unfair traders.
Mrs. Hills used the stigma of Super 301 and the threat of retaliation to extract concessions from a number of trading partners, but she angered some lawmakers last year by refusing to name any country to the list.
In a speech on the floor of the Senate, Sen. Baucus reeled off a litany of examples of trade problems related to bilateral agreements with the European Community on agricultural trade, with Japan on its construction market, with South Korea on beef imports, Canada on lumber and China on satellite services.
"This legislation does nothing more than ensure that other nations do not take advantage of the United States. No reasonable party can argue that violations of trade agreements are not unfair. Yet the U.S. has too often been unwilling to forcefully assert its rights under trade agreements."
Suggestions that the United States might postpone retaliation against Japan to ensure it funds the Persian Gulf War are "merely another example of the warped decision-making that paralyzed U.S. trade policy over the years."
With a majority of Finance Committee members behind it, the bill will have strong support in the Senate.
Rep. Robert Matsui, D-Calif., is expected to introduce the bill in the House after that chamber returns from recess on Feb. 18. It will carry the backing of several other members of the Ways and Means Committee.