WASHINGTON – Chicken, steel, soybeans and pharmaceuticals don’t appear to have much in common, but representatives of all four industries came together Wednesday to ask Congress to do a better job regulating international trade, protecting American business interests from unfair foreign competition and negotiating agreements that standardize requirements across the globe.
“Only when there are real teeth in trade agreements will the U.S. be able to use enforcement tools to protect our interests,” testified Richard Wilkins, treasurer of the American Soybean Association.
Pittsburghers Mario Longhi and Leo Girard offered lawmakers insights from the steel industry.
Mr. Longhi, president of U.S. Steel, and Mr. Girard, international president of United Steelworkers, expressed concern about the requirements and time required to take action against foreign competitors engaging in unfair practices.
“We have to show that we have been badly damaged. Our trading partners have figured that out, so when we file a trade case, by the time it gets to the finish, we are already losing jobs,” Mr. Gerard testified.
He and Mr. Longhi also asked lawmakers to impose countervailing taxes on foreign producers of oil pipe who engage in unfair trade, creating networks of shell companies to circumvent U.S. trade laws.
They are particularly concerned about South Korea, which they say is selling it for less than it costs to produce in an attempt to put the American steel industry out of business.
Members of the Senate Finance Committee appeared sympathetic to the concerns and outraged at trade practices of countries including China, India, Brazil and South Korea.
Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he has been working since 2011 to pass a bill standardizing trade investigations and refocusing U.S. Customs officers on trade enforcement.
“When fake tennis shoes or counterfeit computer chips arrive in the U.S., Customs often appears too focused on security rather than its trade mission. This is especially damaging since foreign companies and governments are finding new ways to mask where products come from,” Mr. Wyden said.
Ranking Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, said the Obama administration hasn’t done a good enough job pursuing remedies through the World Trade Organization and that it hasn’t uniformly implemented trade agreements.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman defended the White House in a written statement Wednesday.
“Our efforts have … helped keep markets open for agricultural producers, manufacturers and service providers that support good-paying, middle-class jobs,” he wrote. We will continue to hold trading partners [accountable] for their obligations and vigorously enforce trade rules to ensure that American families benefit fully from the rules-based trading system.”
That’s good news to Bart Peterson of Eli Lilly and Co., who also testified.
“When enforcement is weak, slow or does not exist, we struggle to level the playing field,” said the pharmaceutical company’s vice president of corporate affairs and communications. “While enforcing compliance with the provisions of existing trade agreements is fundamental, it is equally important to have the highest standards enshrined in new agreements.”
Mr. Gerard agreed that enforcement isn’t enough.
“If we’re trying to enforce bad laws it doesn’t make much difference," he said. “Too much of the trade law is antiquated and doesn’t serve our purpose.”
For example, much of it predates the use of biotechnology in the agriculture industry. Differing criteria of importers make international trade difficult, said Mr. Wilkins of the soybean association. He wants the U.S. to lobby the World Trade Organization for standard trade rules based on sound science and risk assessment.
“We believe U.S. leadership on this issue is critical to bringing other countries to the table,” Mr. Wilkins testified.
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: email@example.com, 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.