Monday, November 8, 2010

American Pols' Selective Support for the WTO

A little over two weeks ago, a WTO panel released its decision in a dispute between the US and China over the United States' imposition of antidumping and countervailing duties (CVDs) against imports from China.  The ruling covers a lot of interesting and important US-China trade issues, including whether the simultaneous imposition of antidumping and countervailing duties against Chinese imports results in "double remedies" on those imports and whether such double counting violates WTO rules.  (As you may recall, the US Court of International Trade recently found that such double counting violated US law, much to the consternation of many US lawmakers.)  China will almost certainly appeal the panel decision and has until mid-December to file its appeal, so we'll have plenty of time to discuss the nitty-gritty aspects of the dispute.  For now, I'd just like to note how this case has caused many American lawmakers to reverse course and suddenly embrace the WTO.  For example, here's the New York Times quoting House Ways & Means Chairman Sander Levin on the recent WTO panel decision in the United States' favor:
“These findings are especially important at a time when the United States is vigorously implementing W.T.O.-consistent tools to address China’s unfair trade practices and to address global imbalances,” said Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan, one of the most outspoken House members on China’s decision to hold down the value of its currency, the renminbi. “We should not let the possibility of meritless allegations of W.T.O. inconsistency prevent us from standing up for U.S. workers and businesses.”
And here's Levin and other members of Congress a few years ago when the WTO's Appellate Body ruled against the United States' use of "zeroing" in antidumping investigations and annual reviews - a practice, by the way, that the US courts had repeatedly held to be legal under US law:
Unsurprisingly, the [Appellate Body] report did not receive a favourable reception in some sections of the US. Sander Levin, a senior Congressional Democrat from Michigan, said that the Appellate Body was overstepping its mandate, "changing the rules in the middle of the game." He added that "the Appellate Body is required to apply obligations that the United States and other WTO Members have negotiated - not create obligations out of thin air."

Even before this latest ruling the issue had been making waves in Washington. On 11 December 2006, 11 House representatives submitted a letter to Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez and US Trade Representative Susan Schwab. In it, they expressed concern that the WTO was overreaching on US trade remedy laws, with regard to zeroing in particular. They noted that implementing the Appellate Body rulings on ‘zeroing’ would "result in a dramatic weakening of the antidumping laws." The lawmakers urged the Bush administration officials to be "steadfast in this continuing assault on our ability to effectively address unfair trade imports," to "vigorously defend the rights of the US" and to "work to persuade the Appellate Body to do the right thing".
So to recap:

  • 2007 Congress (zeroing): "The WTO is awful; the US courts are great!"
  • 2010 Congress (China/CVD): "The US courts are awful; the WTO is great!"
Of course they are, guys.  Of course they are.

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