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Democrats Urge Bush To Strengthen Enforcement Of Trade Rules

by Leroy Baker,, New York

11 April 2007

Senior House Democrats have sent a letter to President Bush, renewing their call for enforcement of US rights under trade agreements.

The letter was sent in anticipation of the Administration’s annual “National Trade Estimate” (NTE) report, listing barriers to US exports.

In their letter, the Democrats expressed hope that the Administration would seize the opportunity to work with Congress and change their strategy on enforcement of trade agreements to avoid further growth of the US trade deficit and unsustainable levels of foreign-owned US debt.

The Democrats identified existing trade barriers with America’s five largest trading partners, and looked at their impact on the US economy. The letter contends that stronger enforcement of trade agreements and the preservation of US rights would help open additional foreign markets to US goods and services. The Democrats believe that action in these areas could help restore confidence, and fight the growing perception that trade agreements are part of the problem, not the solution to expanding opportunity for American workers, farmers and businesses.

"We hope this year that the Administration will use the opportunity of the issuance of the NTE report to move beyond cataloguing these barriers and to begin enforcing US rights," the Democrats wrote.

"Too often in the past, this Administration has devoted its resources to negotiating new rules – at the expense of ensuring that our trading partners play by the rules already in place. Failure to enforce vigorously existing agreements undercuts the value of those agreements," the letter stated.

According to the Democrats, in the six years that the Bush Administration has been in office, the US Trade Representative has brought an average of less than three WTO cases per year. By contrast, the Clinton Administration brought an average of 11 WTO cases per year.

"The United States cannot afford to continue down this path. Last year, the US trade deficit continued to grow at a record-breaking pace, setting another record for the fifth straight year. In 2006, the US trade deficit reached $765 billion – the highest ever in history and almost six percent of the US economy," the letter continued.

The Democrats have urged Bush to direct the USTR to request immediate consultations with eight key US trading partners – Canada, China, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, and the United Kingdom – and to take action, whether under WTO rules, under US law, or in bilateral negotiations, unless during a “consultation” period the problem in each case is successfully resolved.

"The matters raised are ones that involve critical US manufacturing sectors (including steel, steel pipe, commercial aircraft engines, and automotive products), key services sectors (including electronic payments), and intellectual property rights. USTR has, in its NTE reports for the years 2001 through 2007, carefully documented many of these problems, but taken little or no effective action to redress or eliminate them," the Democrats stated.

Bush is also being urged to support new legislation to strengthen the enforcement of trade agreements and the preservation of US rights under those agreements.

The Democrats added: "The legislation will seek to pry open foreign markets to US goods and services by ensuring that our trading partners play by the rules. It also will address a number of problems with the WTO dispute settlement system. A growing number of trade experts – including trade officials in your Administration – are expressing serious concerns that the WTO Appellate Body is imposing obligations on WTO Members, including the United States, that were not agreed to by those Members in the negotiations."

The letter concluded: "Without vigorous and responsible enforcement, trade agreements will increasingly be seen as part of the problem. Americans deserve a trade policy that produces real results. The issuance of this year’s NTE report presents an important opportunity to announce a new, proactive approach to enforcing vigorously US trade agreements. We hope that your Administration takes advantage of this opportunity and stand ready to work with you to restore credibility to American trade policy and the trading system."

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