Order in the Trade Court

THE launching of the World Trade Organization a year ago culminated a half-century of international negotiation. But trade is an ever-prickly subject, and many had doubts that the WTO's enforcement mechanisms would work as hoped. Cases currently before the organization could resolve those doubts.

In January, a three-judge panel of the WTO ruled that US environmental laws governing the chemical makeup of gasoline unfairly shut out refiners from Venezuela and Brazil. The ruling brought an outcry from politicians - notably longtime free-trader Bob Dole - who said it infringed on US sovereignty. In fact, the laws do treat US and foreign gasoline differently.

Another noteworthy case involves a US charge that the European Union unfairly discriminates against American beef that's been treated with growth hormones. The US rightly asserts that scientific evidence refutes the Europeans. This case is just starting the adjudication process.

Both cases involve economic powers likely to be enmeshed in many trade disputes. Both will test the willingness of such countries to abide by international rulings.

These nations were instrumental in setting up the WTO's dispute-resolution procedures. They can now be instrumental in allowing them to work.

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