Ashcroft, Gephardt Differ On W-T-O Summit

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

( Senator John Ashcroft (R-MO), a member of the Senate Commerce and Foreign Relations Committee and his fellow-Missourian, House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO), differ as to what the World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings in Seattle accomplished.

Ashcroft attended the Seattle conference. He said in Washington Monday, "The US should focus on using its own market opening laws to expand export opportunities for American agriculture, services and industry."

Ashcroft also criticized what he called the "inability of major trading nations to reach agreement on key issues, including the European Union's (EU) extensive government subsidization of its food sales to other nations.

First and most important, according to Ashcroft, "we need to reinvigorate our national laws against foreign protectionism. Congress and the President placed too much hope in WTO as a referee for trade, and put too little emphasis on effective enforcement of US laws against unfair foreign protectionism."

As an example, Ashcroft cited "the travesty of the beef case against the Europeans, who refuse to accept American beef raised on feed that includes growth stimulating additives. Europe lost the case because the EU is practicing raw protectionism, instead of sound science."

The United States, Ashcroft said, "can seek to reform the WTO. In Seattle, the US negotiators made the right decision when talks reached an impasse late in the negotiations that no deal is better than a bad deal. I already have introduced legislation to open up the way in which this agency's decisions are enforced by creating more opportunities for public scrutiny and participation."

Ashcroft called the W-T-O meeting a failure. His view of the task before Congress: "If we don't take care of America's interests, no one else will. We should strengthen US laws against foreign trade barriers that unfairly deprive our people of jobs, income and economic opportunity. We should enforce our own laws vigorously. We should strengthen existing laws, with the purpose of opening markets, not closing them. In the case of Europe, the beef market is likely to stay closed until an effective penalty is imposed on Europe's violation of the rules of international trade."

On China, Ashcroft said, "the new trade agreement will be worth having only if China keeps its new commitments. If China believes the US will respond promptly and in a meaningful way to violations, then China will be far more likely to abide by the agreement. Unfortunately, the US did not respond in a credible way when China violated promises it made in the market access agreement of 1992."

Ashcroft also criticized Europe's "addiction to lavish subsidies for its farm exports" as doing much to ruin the Seattle talks. The worst course for America would be to stand still while unfair trade barriers stay in place, undercutting our economic failure."

House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt commended the Clinton administration for not launching another round of WTO negotiations.

"By walking away from the table, the administration supported the interests of US farmers, industry and workers. A good WTO negotiation would address concerns shared by many Americans across the spectrum. Clearly, the WTO must become a more transparent organization. The concerns of environmentalists, non-governmental organizations and organized labor need to be addressed by the WTO," Gephardt said.

"In addition," Gephardt went on to say, " the interests of important industries in our economy like agriculture and services must be enhanced by the WTO, and intellectual property protections must be strengthened."

Gephardt is looking forward to "working with the Clinton administration with the goal of fostering a progressive trade agenda that enhances global living standards and quality of life while opening markets for US exports."