SEN. MAX BAUCUS of Montana got two provisions on meat into the Senate's version of the trade bill. The first would put quotas on imports of lamb into the United States. The second demands the abolition of the quotas on American beef imported into Japan. Mr. Baucus can defend himself by arguing that his lamb quotas would be less harsh and less rigid than Japan's beef quotas. But the two Baucus amendments, taken together, are a warning that the worst of the protectionist language in this bill was written with little thought to consistency, or the possibility that other countries would apply similar restrictions to American products.
While there are some valuable provisions in the bill, it carries a heavy infestation of protectionist poison ivy. We earlier looked at the House bill. Now we turn to the Senate's counterpart and its most dangerous provisions -- those that, if not dropped by the conference, would justify a veto.
The most grossly unfair is an amendment to misuse the dumping laws. When a foreign company sells a product here for less than the price in its own country, that's dumping and it's illegal. This amendment would deliberately distort the comparison of prices by requiring the deduction of profit and selling costs from the U.S. price but not from the price at home. The purpose is to enable American producers to get protection from their foreign competitors even when, by international law and common sense, there is no dumping at all.
The bill would impose a broad new tariff, with the proceeds earmarked to pay for retraining and other aid for people who lose their jobs to imports. This tariff would be illegal under the rules of international trade, and like any tariff, it's a tax on consumers. It makes great sense to help the unemployed -- but they ought to be helped equally, whether the cause is imports or a recession or their employers' mistakes. And that assistance should come from general funds, not from a consumption tax that is both regressive and illegal.
The bill provides an enormous giveaway -- estimates run as high as $800 million -- to four American sugar refining companies. When an American company imports a commodity such as cane sugar on which it pays duties, it can reclaim the duties if it reexports the product -- in this case, refined sugar. Present law allows those claims as far back as five years. This provision would extend that period, for the sugar refiners alone, back to earlier years for which Customs no longer has records to verify their claims. It's simply a huge subsidy of one industry. It's also a subsidy of U.S. sugar exports, at a time when the United States is trying to get the European Common Market to curb the costly and disruptive subsidies of its sugar exports.
When the conference committee finishes its work and the bill goes to President Reagan, he will have to decide whether the good points in it outweigh the poison ivy. Any of these four provisions would be enough to finish off the bill.