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THIS NEW WORLD TRADE UNIT SHOULD NOT WORK IN SECRET

The World Trade Organization has the potential to lower international trade barriers and create the type of global environment under which U.S. industries would thrive.

But for the organization to succeed, it should borrow a few of the sound principles, such as openness and accountability, that are grounded in our system of government.The World Trade Organization would resolve disputes among trading partners and would carry on the work of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. It would have the power to authorize offended nations to retaliate with trade sanctions, and it would set the rules governing trade among its members. So far, 117 nations have endorsed the plan. Congress has yet to decide whether to join them.

Before it does, it ought to insist that the organization be a little less secretive.

First of all, members of the panels that will resolve disputes should be required to disclose any conflicts of interest. This is essential if the organization is to maintain its credibility. It would help avoid the type of embarrassment endured by a North American Free Trade Agreement panel that recently settled a timber subsidy case between Canada and the United States. Two attorneys on the panel, it later was learned, worked for Canadian lumber interests.

Next, the process by which the organization resolves disputes should be made as open to scrutiny as the U.S. judicial system. That means the public and press should be allowed to monitor deliberations and the evidence presented.

Under current proposals, the World Trade Organization would operate in secret and without the benefit of review or oversight. One is left to wonder why the type of secrecy that is antithetical to our system of government should be sanctioned in matters involving world trade.

Contrary to what many political extremists believe, the World Trade Organization would not have the power to override national sovereignty. As Robert Bork, the unsuccessful supreme court nominee who has become somewhat of a conservative icon, recently noted, "Under our constitutional system, no treaty or international agreement can bind the U.S. if it does not wish to be bound."

That means the organization's authority and effectiveness would rely heavily on a high level of trust from its member nations. Such trust can be gained only through openness and through procedures that can be shown to be fair.

Without U.S. support, the World Trade Organization likely would fail. With that kind of clout, Congress should insist on these few, important changes.