If at first you dont succeed, try, try again, said the comedian W.C. Fields. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.

Thats sound advice in a lot of situations. You can only bang your head against a wall for so long. Then you risk brain damage.

Sometimes the stakes are so high, तथापि, that quitting really isnt an optionand it becomes necessary to try something different to achieve the same goal, like climbing over the wall instead of knocking it down.

Thats what American trade negotiators decided last month when they filed a complaint against Mexico before the World Trade Organization. The dispute over Mexicos high tax on soft drinks made with high-fructose corn syrup has gone on for too long. Americas farm economy already is losing about a $1 billion annually. The time has come for our government to finally abandon diplomatic delicacies and play hard ball with a country that has allowed special interests to flout free and fair trade policies. Raising the issue with the WTO isnt so much trying again as it is the logical next step in a costly quarrel.

The problem began nearly a decade ago, when Mexican politicians began trying to block corn sweeteners from their markets. In the early days of 2002, they slapped a 20-percent tax on soft drinks not made with cane sugar. It was a protectionist sop to the Mexican sugar-cane industry, which cant compete against American producers of high-fructose corn syrup. Given that Mexicans drink more soda per capita than any other people in the world, this decision has had a calamitous impact on the United States.

The Corn Refiners Association estimates that in a free-trade environment envisioned by the authors of NAFTA, Americans would sell about two million metric tons of high-fructose corn syrup to Mexico each year. The total value of this transaction would come to $620 million in exports and $300 in corn sales. Additional losses are harder to calculate, but they include purchases that havent been made in seed, उर्वरक, and farm machinery.

NAFTA and WTO panels already have ruled against Mexico on this issue, in cases filed by American corn producers and refiners. Yet these were empty victories because they did not lead to any true reforms. The hope now is that the U.S. government will force positive change, because the WTO has the power to sanction reprisalsi.e., the United States may be granted permission to impose tariffs on certain Mexican products.

When the WTO ruled against U.S. steel tariffs some months ago, in a case initiated by the Europeans, we saw firsthand how the threat of trade reprisals compelled Washington to reverse course. The Europeans were granted permission to tax American products equal in value to the illegal U.S. steel tariffs. Before they did so, तथापि, they published a list of products they meant to taxeach one affecting a vital constituency in a political swing state. दूसरे शब्दों में, if the White House had not abandoned its steel tariffs, the Europeans would have adopted measures aimed specifically at hurting President Bushs re-election prospects in November 2004.

In one sense, this is infuriatingthe Europeans have no business meddling in the workings of American democracy. Yet it is also devilishly clever. Now that were on the other side of the equation, I hope that our trade strategists are giving thought to how they can pursue a similar strategy and arrive at a similar result.

The good news about the showdown over steel tariffs is that Europe didnt have to act. The Bush administration did the right thing and backed downand we all sidestepped a trade war that easily might have escalated, to the detriment of everyone.

We should strive for the same kind of outcome with Mexico. The WTO may permit reprisals, but our goal should be reducing protectionist barriers rather than raising new ones. What we want, simply, is for Mexico to repeal an illegal tax that is hurting Americans. (It hurts Mexicans, बहुत, because it raises consumer prices for them.)

Weve waited long enough for our government to take this dramatic step with the WTO. Now well have to wait just a bit longerat least six months, and perhaps as many as 18, before we have a ruling. But Im confident well win, and maybe even by early next year.

चाहे जो हो जाये–and no matter what W.C. Fields adviseswell keep trying to trade freely and fairly with the people of Mexico.