The world’s richest nations have reached an agreement to outlaw foreign commercial bribery by their corporations, according to Clinton administration officials, who said the pact could end an important competitive advantage that European and Japanese companies enjoy over their American rivals.
The United States is the only major nation that makes it a criminal offense to bribe a foreign official while conducting business overseas.
So the accord, struck Friday by the 29 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), would essentially force companies from other advanced countries to follow rules similar to those binding U.S. firms.
That is a result long sought by the administration and by anti-corruption activists.
Under the accord, members of the OECD, a Paris-based club of industrialized nations, would sign an anti-bribery convention by the end of this year.
They would introduce laws in their national legislatures by next April that would subject their companies to criminal penalties for bribing foreign officials while soliciting business.
The accord, slated to be approved by economic and trade ministers from the 29 countries at a meeting in Paris next week, represents a compromise that Washington struck with France and Germany after a long and sometimes bitter dispute.
In France and Germany, bribes paid to foreign officials are not only legal, they are tax deductible.
The agreement does not guarantee that bribery will disappear in international transactions.
European officials and business executives have long contended that even U.S. firms, banned from making payoffs under the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act of 1977, sometimes use agents and subterfuge to pay bribes on big contracts.