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Nations Ask For Hearing On U.S. Trade Act

Wed., Oct. 2, 1996, midnight

Reversing an earlier decision, European Union nations agreed Tuesday to ask an international trade organization to reject U.S. laws that penalize foreign companies doing business in Cuba, Libya and Iran.

The 15 nations had earlier decided to wait until after the U.S. presidential elections to lodge a complaint with the World Trade Organization, so as not to jeopardize President Clinton’s chances of re-election.

The complaint targets the Helms-Burton Act, which punishes foreign companies doing business in Cuba, and the D’Amato Act, which allows the United States to impose sanctions on firms investing in the energy sectors of Iran or Libya.

Mexico and Canada - the other top foreign investors in Cuba - have joined the EU in criticizing the U.S. legislation and also have discussed retaliation.

On Tuesday, the lower house of the Mexican Congress overwhelmingly approved its own bill to block Helms-Burton. It has already been approved by the Mexican Senate and now goes to President Ernesto Zedillo to be signed.

Helms-Burton, which permits lawsuits against foreign firms using property seized during the 1959 revolution in Cuba, also bars entry into the United States to executives of those firms.

The United States already has banned executives of the Toronto-based mining company Sherritt International. Sherritt mines nickel and cobalt in eastern Cuba at facilities the United States contends were formerly owned by a New Orleans company.

Canada’s Parliament, however, is expected to pass a bill stating that Canada will not recognize court rulings stemming from Helms-Burton and will not help collect judgments against Canadian firms.

The bill also allows targeted Canadian firms to file countersuits against Canadian subsidiaries of American firms that sue under the law.

The EU has drafted similar countermeasures.

Although the WTO could begin proceedings as early as Oct. 16, the Clinton administration can still delay a hearing until after the Nov. 5 elections.

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