The law to harm U.S. interests Helms-Burton Act: The damage it does to U.S. should be kept to a minimum.

July 13, 1996

PRESIDENT CLINTON should waive Title III of the FTC Helms-Burton Act for six months because it is an affront to friendly nations by purporting to legislate their citizens' behavior outside America's borders, and because the reprisals it triggers will harm U.S. interests more than the law can possibly advance them.

Title III allows U.S. companies to sue in U.S. courts for damages from foreign companies that may be using property confiscated from Americans by the Cuban government in 1959. A wrinkle that defies all ex post facto restraints would allow Cubans who later become U.S. citizens to sue, extending their U.S. citizenship as well as the law backward in time.

What's wrong is that the U.S. has no right to legislate for Canadians, Mexicans or others on what they may do outside this country. Canada and Mexico have begun the complaint procedure under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Canada is poised to request a NAFTA dispute settlement panel, if Mr. Clinton does not waive Title III. Other countries are ready to challenge before the World Trade Organization.

Canada has introduced legislation to allow Canadians to counter-sue there to get back anything lost in U.S. courts. The only firms then likely to sue Canadian defendants here would be those without exposure in Canada. A coalition of Canadian religious and union groups has called on Canadians to boycott Florida, where 2 million of them visit every winter.

The Clinton administration has followed the law by writing to inform Sherritt International of Canada that, in 45 days, nine of its officers or shareholders and their families will be persona non grata in the U.S. Sherritt has a joint venture with the Castro government in a nickel mine that was confiscated from a U.S. firm nearly four decades ago.

Sherritt does no business in the U.S. Although the individuals are not named, two of the company's directors are leading British financiers. An Italian telecommunications company and Mexican financial firm have been named as likely recipients of similar letters for ventures involving property confiscated from ITT.

The Helms-Burton Act is a form of grandstanding that apes the infamous former Arab secondary boycott of firms doing business with Israel. It hurts the U.S. more than Cuba. It's an embarrassment that lets Fidel Castro gloat. Mr. Clinton should at least reduce the harm it does to this country to the minimum.

Pub Date: 7/13/96

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