A KEY member of the United States House of Representatives is rewriting a Bill aimed at imposing sanctions against foreign shipbuilding subsidies. Mr Sam Gibbons, chairman of the Ways and Means trade subcommittee, said at a subcommittee meeting last week that he was working with other members of the House and Senate to draft an acceptable compromise. Mr Gibbons' original Bill was passed in the House twice last year but was blocked in the Senate. The Bill, which would have prohibited newly constructed foreign-subsidised ships from calling at US ports, would under certain circumstances have extended the prohibition to an owner's entire fleet. Supporting the Bill were US shipbuilders, which have operated without subsidies since 1981. Opposed were shippers and cruise lines, who benefit from buying subsidised foreign ships, and exporters, who fear retaliation. Mr Gibbons did not disclose details of his new Bill, but said it would have less severe penalties aimed at the subsidising country, not the shipper. The Bush administration opposed Mr Gibbons' 1992 bill. The position of the Clinton administration on the issue is not known. Mr Gibbons intends his Bill to be used as a lever for the US delegation in negotiations with Japan, South Korea, Finland Norway, Sweden and the European Community. Those negotiations, aimed at eliminating shipbuilding subsidies, began in October 1989 and collapsed in April 1992. In December the participants met informally to consider resuming negotiations; they have not resumed yet. The participants are still considering proposals made at the December meeting on the contentious issues: direct subsidy limits, a 1994 deadline for phasing out subsidies, limits on injurious pricing. According to an official in the Office of the US Trade Representative, the Clinton administration is still sorting out its positions on the negotiations and on the Gibbons Bill. In a related development, the Federal Maritime Commission is considering a petition by the Shipbuilders Council of America seeking retaliation against Italian shipbuilding subsidies. The petition, submitted in October, claims that the Italian Government subsidised 58 per cent of the cost of the construction of three luxury liners for a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise Lines by Italian state-owned shipbuilding conglomerate Fincanteri.