World's Nations Close to Pact on GATT Clinton Calls Exports U.S.'S `Lifeblood'

Article excerpt

RONALD REAGAN proposed it. George Bush came within a whisker of finishing it. Bill Clinton may claim it as the crowning foreign policy achievement of his presidency.

Nearly eight years after they began, worldwide negotiations aimed at lowering trade barriers appear headed toward an agreement that supporters say will dramatically stimulate economic growth worldwide.

Trade negotiators gathered Friday in Geneva to work toward final compromises. The chief problem remained a dispute between the United States and the European Community over protection for European farm products, primarily those from France.

Clinton spoke with French President Francois Mitterrand and Premier Edouard Balladur on Friday, White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said. She said they discussed "outstanding issues" including agriculture.

"Both affirmed a commitment to getting something done," she said.

About 100 French farmers blocked trains Friday near Vichy in central France, responding to calls by farm groups to protest any agreement to cut subsidies or production.

Should Americans care about GATT?

Exports are "the lifeblood of our economic growth," according to Clinton.

"This is the only international jobs bill around," says Republican Bill Frenzel, a former Minnesota congressman and a trade specialist.

Clinton, Frenzel and other supporters of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade believe that well over half the new jobs generated in the United States over the next decade will come from goods and services that Americans will sell to foreign consumers. A report presented at Friday's trade meeting predicted that GATT would increase world trade by at least $745 billion a year and world income by $230 billion a year, by 2005.

Conversely, if the GATT negotiations fail, there is a real possibility of regional trade wars, isolating the European Community, Asia and North America and slowing growth.

There will be some losers among U.S. companies if the final round of negotiations end with an agreement among the 116 participating nations, as expected over the next few days. But overall, there is a broad consensus that the impact of GATT will be many times that of the North American Free Trade Agreement, approved by Congress last month after a brutal political battle.

"This is far, far more important than NAFTA," said Barry Bosworth, an economist at the Brookings Institution and a White House adviser in the Carter administration. "The fight over NAFTA was about low-wage jobs we were going to lose anyway. GATT gives a huge advantage to high technology and research, which this country does best."

Among the U.S. winners are likely to be high-tech computer makers, grain farmers, investment firms, television producers, pharmaceutical companies, tractor and heavy truck manufacturers and hundreds of service industries eager to do business abroad.

Frenzel, who helped Clinton push NAFTA through Congress, said there might now be a worldwide agreement because, "Leaders everywhere don't like what their economies are doing.

"Europe is flat, its industrial powers are down, the U.S. growth is slow and Japan is in a recession like it hasn't experienced for 20 years," he said. "That is not a pleasant world picture. Leaders are beginning to understand that without liberalized trade, we are going to have an even more unpleasant decade."

Although GATT may help the United States in the long run, there will undoubtedly be some industries that have traditionally been protected from foreign competition - either by high tariffs or quotas - that will be hurt. …