House Votes To Stay in WTO

Wednesday, June 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House is expected to easily reject a move to end U.S. participation in the World Trade Organization, but sent a message Wednesday that improvements are needed in the ways the body governs world trade.

A motion to withdraw the approval of Congress from the agreement establishing the WTO had only limited backing, including a smattering of protest votes.

There is no acceptable alternative to having a global rules-based trading system, said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich. ``The alternative is anarchy.''

The 1994 legislation authorizing U.S. entry in the newly created WTO required the administration to submit a report on the costs and benefits of membership. After the report is filed, any single member of Congress can sponsor a resolution to withdraw from the trade body.

That resolution was offered by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, a vocal opponent of U.S. involvement in international organizations. U.S. entry in the WTO is illegal and unconstitutional, Paul said. ``It is the U.S. Congress that has the authority to regulate foreign commerce. Nobody else.''

``This isn't a matter of trade, this isn't a matter of exclusion, this is a matter of American sovereignty,'' said Rep. Jim Traficant, D-Ohio.

But the prevailing view was reflected by Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind., who said, ``We don't want to blow up the WTO. ... We want to improve it, not remove it.''

Many accused the 136-nation, Geneva-based trade group of ignoring worker rights and environmental issues, echoing themes from last December, when the WTO was the target of violent protests in Seattle.

``The WTO is in need of significant reform,'' said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. ``Workers' rights and environmental protection are competitiveness issues and should play a stronger role in the WTO.''

Rep. Philip Crane, R-Ill., a member of the Ways and Means Committee, noted that the panel, which oversees trade policy, earlier voted 35-0 against the resolution. The consensus, he said, was that it would be ``unthinkable and illogical for the United States to withdraw.''

Crane, responding to criticisms that the WTO infringes on U.S. sovereignty, said the organization has brought prosperity to Americans by lowering trade tariffs and opening foreign markets and has been consistently pro-American, ruling for the United States in 25 of the 27 trade disputes this country has filed to the WTO.

Several lawmakers said they recognized the need for the WTO but were casting a protest vote in favor of withdrawal. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, said she was protesting the decision of a company in her district to move 1,500 jobs to Mexico. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said he was voting yes ``out of frustration'' because ``now only the voices of the economic elites are heard at the WTO.''

The president's five-year report submitted to Congress last March said the WTO had been instrumental in expanding market access, protecting intellectual property rights, developing a system for settling disputes and expanding the rule of law.

It said that future issues the WTO must address include biotechnology, electronic commerce and environmental protection.

The pro-trade vote came a month after the House approved by 237-197 legislation putting normal trade relations with China on a permanent basis. The vote was part of the process to admit China into the WTO.