Thursday, March 03, 2005

Will the U.S. Congress Vote on Withdrawing From the WTO?

This week, the U.S. Trade Representative submitted the 2005 Trade Policy Agenda and the 2004 Annual Report of the President on trade. These annual reports to Congress are required by statute. What makes this year's 437-page report more interesting than usual, however, is that it also triggers a statutory provision that requires the U.S. government to assess the costs and benefits of staying in the WTO every five years and to allow members of Congress to propose a joint resolution withdrawing the U.S. from the WTO.

According to this Reuters account, there are some members of Congress who will probably introduce such a resolution this year. In particular, Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a Socialist, seems ready to do so. Is the foundation of global trade threatened? Probably not. Back in 2000, Rep. Ron Paul (Republican-Libertarian - Texas) introduced a similar resolution that went down in the House by an astounding vote of 56 in favor of withdrawing and 363 opposed. Who says the Republican-controlled House is anti-internationalist?

I believe these sorts of reports to Congress and statutory procedures for permitting Congress to vote on WTO membership are a healthy thing. We should probably have similar mechanisms for other international organizations like the U.N. Congress needs to be kept abreast of what is going on and they should be periodically presented with the question as to whether it still makes sense to stay in the organization. This ensures that U.S. membership in the WTO remains subject to the supervision and control of the most democratically accountable branch of the federal government. The fact that WTO is subject to more democratic constraints than most international organizations to which the U.S. is a member may actually be one reason that its decisions and judgments are more respected within the U.S. system.

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