Clinton Decides: Let The Exports Flow

Think of it as an elixir for the flagging U.S. export machine. On Sept. 29, the Commerce Dept. unveiled its long-awaited blueprint for export promotion. And its centerpiece--a sweeping rollback of export controls on high-tech equipment--immediately set hearts fluttering among computer executives, who had started to wonder if President Clinton had forgotten their campaign support.

The Administration is exempting from export-licensing requirements up to $35 billion worth of computer gadgetry, according to Commerce and industry estimates. The new rules are far more liberal than high-tech companies had dreamed of. "It's breathtaking in its scope," says Paul Freedenberg, a trade lawyer at Baker & Botts. The policy is "a winner for both the industry and our country," adds Unisys Corp. Chairman and CEO James A. Unruh.

MIXED BAG. The Administration's task is just half done, however. The move affects only trade with U.S. allies. To make it easier to export to China and the former Soviet Union, Washington must seek the approval of the 17-nation Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM), which restricts shipments of civilian goods that can be used for military purposes.

The rest of the program is a mixed bag. The Administration decided not to make increased foreign aid conditional on purchases of U.S. goods and services--the "tied aid" other countries routinely use. Instead, it pledges to step up efforts to combat the practice. And the President promised a mere $150 million for an Export-Import Bank war chest.

To its credit, the report emphasizes streamlining the overlapping export-promotion bureaucracies and creating "one-stop shopping centers"--in Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami. Overall, the blueprint creates a new climate of government support for exports. It hints, for example, that officials will help U.S. companies win major overseas contracts, as Clinton did earlier this year when he urged Saudi Arabia to buy Boeing Co. jets. If it succeeds, U.S. export growth could catch a second wind.

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