US Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor, appointed earlier this year after the death of Ron Brown, argues that America's economic success depends upon the growth of open markets

Pat Buchanan's primary campaign highlighted growing domestic support for more protectionist trade and commerce policies. At a time when economies are increasingly open and convergent, do you think that there is a place for these kinds of policies?

Absolutely not. International trade continues to be central to the economic well-being of the US. Millions of American jobs depend upon export expansion, as well as the future jobs of our children. Globalisation is here to stay. We can't just turn our backs on this reality, but must embrace it and make the most of the opportunities that it offers.

We have put a great deal of effort into ensuring that other countries' markets are as open as ours. During the past three years, the Clinton Administration has concluded more than 200 trade agreements, including the Uruguay Round, NAFTA and the Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA), and many other historic market-opening agreements with Europe, Japan and China. These agreements have helped to create thousands of high-paying jobs for American workers.

We entered into these agreements because we knew that they would benefit American workers and American industry. Consequently, to maximise the benefits we can expect from these agreements, we must ensure that foreign governments live up to the full range of obligations that they have entered into.

The Commerce Department has a key role to play in this effort. I am committed to using our unfair trade laws when US industries and their workers are injured by unfair dumped or subsidised goods.

What can the US or the WTO do to curb abuses of Intellectual Property Rights?

For more than a decade, the US has pursued an active and aggressive trade policy on intellectual property rights which has yielded dramatic results, bilaterally, regionally and multilaterally, for our technology-based and creative industries. Yet even with the state-of-the-art protection for intellectual property established in the WTO and NAFTA, much work remains to be done before we can declare victory in our effort to curb piracy and ensure that US intellectual property owners are guaranteed adequate and effective protection, and fair and equitable market access, worldwide.

As our recent frictions with China on intellectual property so clearly demonstrated, our long-term challenge as we head into the next century is to ensure that existing agreements are fully and properly enforced. Given the great strides that have been made in establishing national, regional and multilateral legal frameworks for IPR protection, we are confident that this new challenge can be met through the continued use of bilateral tools such as Special 301, and the new WTO dispute settlement mechanisms, which we have already put to use for violations of agreements by Japan, Portugal, India and Pakistan.

As for China, the Administration's insistence this past June that China take concrete actions to demonstrate its compliance with key aspects of our 1995 IPR Enforcement Agreement has already produced gains. We recognise, however, that achieving a truly effective IPR protection and enforcement structure in China is a long-term process that will require a great deal of persistence and determination on our part.

What opportunities does Mercosur offer US firms?

We support subregional trade agreements to the extent that they are trade-expanding and do not raise barriers to third parties. The Clinton Administration has long recognised that expanding trade in our hemisphere means greater economic opportunity for US companies and workers, promotes the health, welfare and livelihood of the region's people, fosters development and helps to ensure that democracy remains the rule and not the exception. It was with this in mind that we pushed for agreement at the Summit of the Americas (SOA), held in Miami in 1994, to establish the FTAA by 2005.

It is too early to make a definitive assessment as to whether Mercosur benefits US commercial interests, though trade trends are currently favourable and appear to be continuing in the right direction.

In recent years US trade and investment in the Mercosur countries has risen substantially. US exports to the four countries doubled in 1991-95 (rising from US$8.8 billion in 1991 to US$17 billion in 1995) while the US trade surplus increased from US$500 million to US$6.2 billion. This surge in US exports coincided with the introduction by Argentina and Brazil of major macroeconomic stabilisation programmes, unilateral trade liberalisation actions and structural reforms. We will continue to support Mercosur's development and expect it to adhere to WTO norms designed to minimise the potential for trade diversion. If it continues to develop in a manner that is trade liberalising for third countries as it expands inter-Mercosur trade, it can only help to increase US commerce with the region.

What is your view of WTO efforts to liberalise the global telecoms sector in the light of the US refusal to join a WTO-backed accord in April?

While the WTO talks on Basic Telecommunications had made some progress over two years of negotiation, there was not a sufficient number of good offers on the table at the end of April to conclude an agreement. The purpose of the negotiations is to progressively liberalise telecom services around the world, yet only 11 other countries have made offers that are equivalent to the US offer, which provides for open market access for telecom services and facilities and makes regulatory commitments to implement effective competition in all segments of the market.

The US has taken a leadership role in these negotiations from the beginning, and we supported efforts to extend the talks until next February to preserve the progress that has been made and to seek improved offers from other 'critical mass' countries, particularly in the areas of international and satellite services.

I believe that the WTO remains the best forum in which to promote trade liberalisation in telecommunications services. This administration is committed to doing all it can to achieve success in these negotiations. US telecoms firms are poised to compete abroad and will benefit if we can open up access to a worldwide telecom services marketplace that exceeds US$550 billion in annual revenues.

Big changes are under way in Europe - the EU, EMU and the opening up of the east in particular. How well-placed is the US to benefit from these changes, or do you see a single European trading bloc as a threat to future US prosperity?

The changes taking place in Europe are not a threat but a tremendous opportunity for US firms and their workers. These changes will benefit US companies, especially because harmonisation of regulations, practices and currency among EU member states will bring down the costs of doing business. We are working with European officials to ensure that the concerns of US companies about the process of European integration - and there are some - are being taken into account.

The opening of Eastern Europe too presents great opportunities. In recent years, Eastern European countries have started the process of upgrading their commercial laws and policies to bring them in line with Western practices. The resulting greater transparency and predictability of commericial decision-making has been a boon to US companies as more of them discover the great untapped potential of these markets.

Finally, what challenges are posed by your move from the 'hands on' negotiating role of Trade Representative to the policy-making position of Commerce Secretary?

The transition from Trade Representative to the position of Commerce Secretary has involved a shift in my day-to-day role from that of negotiator to that of policy-maker. Although the daily mechanics of these jobs are quite different, they are complementary and share a common goal: to work to strengthen the economy for all Americans through increased economic opportunity and a higher standard of living. I embrace the exciting challenge of my new mission.

Our nation's performance over the past three years has made us again the world's undisputed economic leader - the greatest exporter, the finest innovator, the engine that drives the world's prosperity. America is winning in the global economy and these resources will help to keep us there. The sum of all the Commerce Department programmes and initiatives is simply this: new jobs, higher wages and a growing standard of living for America's working men and women and a stronger America, competing and winning in the 21st Century.

To TopTo Archive IndexTo Contents

©Kensington Publications 1996