Four years ago, the U.S. steel industry was in crisis -- a crisis that continues today. Steel imports, many illegally subsidized by foreign governments or simply dumped on U.S. shores, have caused hardships for families throughout America. Other manufacturers, as well as farmers and fishermen, are feeling the same pressure from illegal trade practices.

The U.S. International Trade Commission and the Commerce Department investigate potentially illegal practices by our trade partners. When found guilty, the foreign producers have to pay a penalty -- a customs duty. Previously those duties were deposited in the Treasury for general use. Injured companies and workers who had been laid off or had their pensions and health care slashed were left to fend for themselves, while the government profited from their hardship. That was wrong.

In 2000 I worked with a bipartisan group of senators and representatives to provide relief to these workers and companies. Through what is commonly called the Byrd amendment, we allowed the penalties collected from those trade partners found in violation of the law to be made available to those Americans who had been injured by the trade violations. But The Post apparently does not approve ["Mr. Kerry and Trade," editorial, Sept. 2].

Each nation has the sovereign right to decide how to run its own affairs. In this republic, that right is enunciated in the Constitution, which gives Congress the "Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States." Congress lived up to that mandate.

If our trade partners did not violate trade agreements, if they did not illegally subsidize products or allow products to be dumped below cost on American markets, then the United States would not need to levy duties on their products. But they continue to violate the law, chipping away at America's economic base. We cannot let them get away with it.

ROBERT BYRD

U.S. Senator (D-W.Va.)

Washington