Trade Problems Revive Idea of Internatinal Overseer

Article excerpt

The latest round of trade negotiations between the United States and Japan is provoking rancor but few results. The Japanese have charged that the U.S. does not invest enough in education and research and development, while the U.S. contends that Japan's distribution network remains closed.

Although there may be elements of truth in the charges of both sides, they remain outside the realm of the talks, which are supposed to focus on the reported discrimination against American exports to Japan of satellites, forest products, telecommunications equipment and supercomputers.

Some policy makers and critics - discouraged by the slow pace of negotiations and America's big annual deficits - have begun to voice new support for an old idea.

Articles have appeared in academic journals, including the Harvard Business Review, and the ideas have been discussed by some Congressional staff members.

``We need more than short-term bilateral talks on trade,'' said Walter Russell Mead, an economist and author who completed a study of the postwar international economic system published in the summer and winter issues of World Policy Journal.

``We need a reform of the postwar international economic system so that it recognizes how integrated our national economies have become.''

John Maynard Keynes first advocated the idea that is gaining favor today when, representing Britain at the Bretton Woods, N.H., conferences following World War II, he proposed creating an ``international trade organization,'' with responsiblity over long-term trade matters.

``After World War II, Keynes pushed for creating the World Bank, to stimulate global economic growth, and the International Monetary Fund, to make short-term balance-of-payment loans,'' Mead said, as well as an international trade organization to solve long-term trade problems, but it ``died in the cradle.''

The trade organization, as Lord Keynes envisioned it, would have had an independent secretariat with an international staff and would have served as a forum where countries could discuss trade issues on a neutral turf.

``The secretariat would have been at least able to develop a data base so that during trade negotiations apples could be compared to apples; we don't have that now,'' said Clyde Prestowitz, a former trade negotiator in the Reagan adminstration and a critic of the Bush administration's policy toward Japan.

Supporting the idea of creating a new trade organization, he added that the aim of the organization ``was simple - to bring surplus and deficit countries into balance in a nonpejorative way. …