Repealing the Byrd Amendment

A few paragraphs from my weekend National Post column on the escalating tussle over the Byrd Amendment:

The ongoing trade spat over the so-called Byrd Amendment is an exercise in deep cynicism on all sides. No matter what resolution is reached, it exposes some of the central hypocrisies in international trade.

More properly known as the Continued Dumping and Subsidy Offset Act of 2000, CDSOA was one of the last legislative acts of the 106th U.S. Congress. It was inserted by Senator Robert Byrd into a larger agricultural bill that outgoing U.S. President Clinton wanted badly to sign before he left office.

The Byrd Amendment redirects monies collected in the U.S. from import tariffs. It tells U.S. Customs to put all such antidumping tariffs into special bank accounts, one for each case. In the past that money went to the U.S. Treasury, but post-CDSOA the money was collected by Customs and then paid out to the companies successfully participating in each case.

….

That that hasn’t always been the case. Instead of being a revenue stream for companies, tariffs have historically been a revenue stream and incentive for government, whether in the U.S., Canada, or elsewhere. It is difficult to argue that the latter is truly preferable to the former. Both are distortions; both create wrong-headed incentives.

Perhaps, therefore, one consequence, entirely unintended, of the tussle over the Byrd Amendment will be to draw this “tariffs as profit center” hypocrisy to the fore. And that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

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