Two Democratic members of the House of Representatives are expected to introduce a trade bill tomorrow that would allow the Federal Communications Commission to impose sanctions against countries that limit imports of American telecommunications equipment and services.
The measure, drafted by Rep. Timothy E. Wirth (D-Colo.), chairman of the House subcommittee on telecommunications, consumer protection and finance, and Rep. James Florio (D-N.J.), chairman of the House subcommittee on commerce, transportation and tourism, is the latest in a series of trade-protection measures introduced by members of Congress concerned about the nation's worsening trade balance.
Wirth and Florio said they agreed to introduce the bill because of pressure from the U.S. telecommunications industry and a deepening U.S. telecommunications deficit that has now soared to more than $600 million.
"American industry has found it extraordinarily difficult to gain market access in a number of foreign countries, which has created an extremely dangerous situation for the long-term health of the U.S. telecommunications industry," said one congressional staff source who asked not to be identified.
The bill, which would apply to all foreign countries, follows other trade bills, such as one introduced by Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) that singles out Japan and requires the president to impose sanctions against Japan under already existing trade law.
Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) and Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) have introduced bills calling for a 25 percent surcharge on telecommunications equipment imported from abroad.
The Wirth-Florio bill involves both the Commerce Department and the FCC. The bill would require the secretary of Commerce to evaluate market access for American products in foreign markets and to inform the president of a country's policy toward U.S. telecommunications goods and services by the end of July 1986.
The president could then impose sanctions under existing trade law. If the president declined to use those sanctions, the bill would then require the FCC to impose sanctions.
The bill would authorize the FCC, by a change in the Communications Act, to use its telecommunications equipment certification procedures as a retaliatory tool if trade negotiations fail. Currently, foreign countries have no trouble registering their equipment with the FCC.
Foreign countries would be informed up to 1 1/2 years beforehand that sanctions might be imposed if trade negotiations to remove barriers are not successful.
Congress has directed the FCC, which regulates the American telecommunications industry, to investigate what sorts of sanctions it could impose, but officials there have said it would require an act of Congress to allow them to use trade sanctions.
The FCC is currently considering duplicating lengthy and costly equipment certification regulations used by some foreign countries to restrict imports or even "slow-rolling applications . . . letting the flies settle on them," said one FCC official who asked not to be identified.
The FCC has warned the Japanese in the past that it could use its certification procedures as a trade sanction against that country should the Japanese not open doors to U.S. manufacturers. Japan's national telephone company, which was formerly government-owned, was recently cut loose from the government, opening up large new markets for telecommunications equipment.
Although new Japanese draft trade rules suggest the United States will be allowed to sell equipment in Japan, "everybody is waiting to see how they will be implemented in terms of increased American participation in that market," the staff source said.