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US House votes to lift immunity of OPEC-style cartels

Us Congress' lower house overwhelmingly approved a bill authorizing antitrust action against international cartels of oil and gas exporters, but President George W. Bush signaled he would not sign it into law.

Known as 'The No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act' (NOPEC), the bill is a response to skyrocketing gasoline prices across the US, a tendency consumers blame largely on price-fixing by OPEC. The House of Representatives voted 345-72 in favor of the bill that would allow OPEC and other energy cartels to be prosecuted in US courts for anticompetitive activities with regard to pricing, production and distribution of hydrocarbons. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. said a US federal court had rejected an antitrust lawsuit filed against OPEC in 1978, on the grounds that foreign states are protected against prosecution in the States by jurisdictional immunities envisaged in the Foreign Services Immunity Act (FSIA). The new bill drops OPEC and other such cartels from FSIA protections.

The Bush administration argues, however, that legislation outlawing OPEC and other groups of oil and gas exporters could trigger retaliatory measures, leading to disruptions in supplies and further price hikes. The president has already made it clear he will veto the NOPEC bill. Following the bill's approval in April by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it was in breach of international law. "If such a bill is enacted, stripping foreign states of immunity in American courts, then the US will be in violation of one of the universally recognized principles of international law - that of states' sovereign equality," the ministry said in a statement. A spokesperson for the Congressional Research Service told RIA Novosti that if it does come into force, NOPEC could immediately be contested by foreign states through the World Trade Organization. (rian.ru)