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Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
President Bush should drop the high tariffs on imported steel. The United States promised to abide by the World Trade Organization's decisions, and we just lost. It also is in our economic interest to buy things at world prices.
Tariffs aim to protect jobs for a few Americans by forcing other Americans to pay more than the world price. The victims of a steel tariff are the American shipyards, constructors, fabricators, machine shops and others who forge, roll, bend, cut and weld steel. Since the Bush tariff became effective in March 2002, these users have been saddled with higher-priced steel than their foreign competitors.
America has far more people who work with steel than produce it, especially on the West Coast, where steel mills routinely import Asian slab and plate. Our location on the Pacific Rim gives us a natural advantage. It makes no sense to block it with an artificial barrier.
If our parochial interest were opposed to the nation's interest, we should step aside. But the underlying interest behind the tariff is the maintenance of an uncompetitive industry. Basic steel has been running to the federal government for more than 30 years. Its plants are old. Some of its most competitive people are its lawyers.
This is not an issue only of high wages. Japan, Switzerland, Norway, New Zealand and the European Union all pay high wages, some of them higher than ours, and they are among the nations bringing the WTO case against us.
Everyone knew they would win. Like the Clinton staffers in earlier cases, the Bush people didn't care. They were thinking short-term. They got the tariff in time for the 2002 elections, and they were hoping to have it through 2004.
The American loss in Geneva exposes the United States to retaliatory tariffs before that election.
The game now gets serious. If it were worth playing, we should play it out, but it is not.
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