UPON President-elect Bill Clinton's inauguration, his
administration will face a most prickly problem: negotiating
lucrative trade agreements in foreign markets that have produced
adversaries more often than partners in world commerce.
But before working any deals abroad, the White House must get
through what could be rough congressional confirmation hearings to
win approval for Mickey Kantor, the lawyer/lobbyist who Mr. Clinton
has tapped to be the new US trade representative.
Clinton officials must contend with increasing world recession.
While stepped-up US exports have accounted for much of the nation's
economic growth during the past several years, economies that have
been the biggest outlets for US output - in Europe, Latin America,
and Japan - are either slowing down or have reached a standstill.
Shrinking world demand forces the United States to push more
aggressively for export sales and counter strong competition from
foreign suppliers anxious to sell to the US.
Now, more than ever, say trade watchers, multilateral accords
effectively regulating free and fair commerce must be reached
before nations erect more barriers and the globe sections into
regional trade blocs.
US officials are in the throes of completing the most
comprehensive trade talks to date, the Uruguay Round of the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Involving more than 100
nations and covering a broad range of areas from farm subsidies to
intellectual property rights, it has been more than six years in
President Bush just signed the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA) with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts,
although the new Clinton administration can expect to encounter
strong opposition to the pact from many US interest groups. And
Washington has been in protracted negotiations with Tokyo over
Japan's huge trade surplus with the US.
These are the flash points in US trade policy, but there are
endless, complex issues that arise with a variety of governments
and companies every day. The new administration may not be
prepared, says Alan Tonelson, research director of the Economic
Strategy Institute. Kantor "doesn't know a thing about trade
policy," he says, "and now is really no time for on-the-job
On Capitol Hill, Kantor's unexpected appointment is likely to be
challenged by lawmakers who are uncomfortable with Manatt, Phelps,
Phillips & Kantor, the California law firm that has registered as a
foreign agent to lobby in the US on behalf of foreign companies and
governments. But despite Clinton's earlier disavowal of lobbyists
and influence-peddlers in government, he selected Kantor, his good
friend and campaign chairman, to be the next trade representative. …