Clinton Bears Down On A Foreign Issue: American Jobs

Mickey Kantor may have traded his title as Bill Clinton's campaign chairman for the new role of U.S. Trade Representative, but the intersection of politics and economics is never far from his mind. These days, Kantor routinely ends meetings by exhorting aides to remember the man on the street. "How are you helping his kids, keeping his job secure, finding him a job?" Kantor asks.

Such concerns are pushing the Administration into formulating tough trade policies. For Clinton's people, a key foreign-policy objective will be creating jobs in the U.S. by opening up such shuttered markets as Japan and, to a lesser extent, Europe. "National security will be defined a lot less in terms of tanks and bullets and more in terms of economic strength," notes one senior Administration official.

What the Clintonites really want, of course, is to brandish a big stick they'll never have to use. They would like to scare open foreign markets, not close off domestic ones. So they are coming out playing Mr. Macho.

RICE CURTAIN. Tokyo, whose January trade surplus with the U.S. surged 21%, to $2.95 billion, is sure to be the main target.Despite Japanese protests, Clinton aides still support reviving the Super 301 mechanism, which calls for tariffs and quotas to punish countries deemed to employ unfair trade practices. Kantor and Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown are also intrigued by the recommendations of a U.S. trade advisory panel composed of chief executives of leading U.S. exporters. Its Feb. 11 report urges the Administration to negotiate specific percentage targets for U.S. goods in certain Japanese markets-- a-la the existing semiconductor agreement. Already, Kantor is readying a slew of market-opening initiatives on everything from insurance to helicopters.

Despite the new edge to U.S. trade policy, the Feb. 12 meeting between U.S. officials and Japanese Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe was amiable enough. But that may have been just a brief respite. Noboru Hatakeyama, a top Japanese trade official, suggests that Tokyo might retaliate if the U.S. were to single out Japan for any Super 301 violations. U.S. trade officials agree with trade hawks who say the threat is hollow. "What are they going to do, close their markets to U.S. goods?" scoffs Kevin Kearns of the Economic Strategy Institute.

FRENCH MOANS. If Japanese officials are worried, Eurocrats are beside themselves. In a Feb. 11 meeting, European Community Trade Minister Sir Leon Brittan clashed with Kantor over U.S. moves to slap duties on European steel and to penalize Europe for barriers to purchases of foreign telecommunications equipment. The loudest moans are, of course, coming from highly protected France, where officials worry that Clinton is going to launch a new offensive on European agricultural supports and state-financing for Airbus.

There are dangers in this hard-line approach. The Clintonites could be making a serious miscalculation, underestimating European and Japanese ability to retaliate. But it looks as though U.S. trading partners are going to have to get used to a tough-talking Administration determined to create and protect U.S. jobs. When Clinton was asked after his meeting with Watanabe if he would press ahead to open the Japanese market, the President smiled and said, "That's my job."

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