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ANTI-BRIBERY BILL COULD AID TELECOM COMPANIES

WASHINGTON-The House and Senate are pushing bills to curb foreign bribery in international business, legislation that should aid the U.S. wireless telecom industry as trade barriers come down and carriers and manufacturers move into global markets.

“American industry is the most competitive in the world,” said House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas Bliley (R-Va.), a sponsor along with Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) of the bill.

“Merit, not bribery, should determine who wins foreign contracts,” Bliley said. “Overseas sales should go to the best competitors, not the biggest bribers.”

A companion bill in the Senate is sponsored by Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

While the United States has a strong anti-bribery law-the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act-other countries do not.

“Obviously, we know that this sort of thing goes on,” said Kathy Reinhart, a spokeswoman for AirTouch Communications Inc.

Reinhart said AirTouch does not engage in any activity outside the FCPA, adding that “we will not tolerate any partner who does so.”

The legislation, introduced at the request of Commerce Secretary William Daley, would implement the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

The hope, according to the House Commerce Committee, is the bills will draw foreign trading partners’ attention to the bribery problem and thus help U.S. firms compete more effectively abroad.

“Bell Atlantic is a global communications company and that means working with businesses with cultures that are often radically different from our own,” said Steve Fleischer, a spokesman for Bell Atlantic’s international wireless unit.

“But our code of conduct is clear,” said Fleischer. “No matter what country we’re in, we represent Bell Atlantic and its core values, including acting with integrity and conducting business using the highest ethical standards.”

Fleischer said Bell Atlantic has maintained a high level of integrity in overseas wireless business through stringent hiring practices and by providing international employees with training that helps them understand and comply with FCPA principles.

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