WASHINGTON—Senators from two states that have been hit hard by manufacturing declines introduced legislation Wednesday to create a government prosecutor who'd target other countries accused of violating international trade accords.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, said the prosecutor should head a new enforcement division in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
Their bill would provide more money and beefed-up legal clout to bring cases to the World Trade Organization against China, Japan, South Korea and other countries that they said were gaming complex international trade rules.
"We need somebody standing up for American businesses and American workers, representing them in court, going in and making sure that we do not have other countries breaking the law, cheating and doing things that are costing us jobs," Stabenow said.
Graham and Stabenow charged that the United States largely had turned a blind eye to unfair trading practices that led to the loss of more than 1 million American jobs last year.
Among the practices they cited are government currency manipulation that lowers the price of exports, a booming business in counterfeit auto parts and other products, and extensive piracy of computer software and components. They also cited illegal government subsidies to foreign companies.
"My message is that trade, to be free, has to be fair," Graham said. "As we have seen these trade agreements being negotiated and implemented, it seems to be very one-sided."
Graham said the measure must be part of any congressional renewal of "fast track" trade authority, which President Bush appealed to lawmakers Wednesday to give him.
"Presidents of both parties have considered this authority essential to completing good trade agreements," Bush said in an address in New York.
While Graham and Stabenow focused on job losses, the White House released a "state of the economy" fact sheet that said the U.S. economy had produced more than 7.2 million jobs since August 2003.
Fast-track powers require that any trade accord the president sends Congress receive an up-or-down vote without changes to the treaty. Lawmakers granted Bush the authority in 2002, but it will expire July 1.
Graham and Stabenow also criticized U.S. enforcement of trade agreements and rules. The government has filed 16 complaints since 2002 with the World Trade Organization, which oversees international commerce. That's down from 68 cases in the previous five years, they said.
Gretchen Hamel, a spokeswoman for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, said the office had a monitoring and enforcement division.
"We always prefer to negotiate rather than litigate, but at the same time we want to make sure that all of our trading partners abide by World Trade Organization rules," Hamel said.
Stabenow, though, maintained that U.S. officials who enforced trade deals needed to be more independent of trade negotiators.
"The point of having a separate enforcement division is that you wouldn't have those who are negotiating the agreements—and developing good relationships—then putting on the enforcement cap," she said.
Michigan's economy has been decimated by the loss of tens of thousands of autoworker jobs. Stabenow tied the job losses in part to currency manipulation by Japan and South Korea and to the sales of counterfeit auto parts from various countries.
Thousands of textile workers in South Carolina also have lost their jobs, partly because of imports of cheap garments made in China or in other countries from Chinese fabrics.
The U.S. trade deficit was $698.3 billion in the last quarter of 2006, down from its historic high of $801.7 billion the previous quarter, according to figures that the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released Wednesday.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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