Spicy TradeDouglas Harbrecht
USTR and the American Crusade for Free Trade
By Steve Dryden
Oxford 452pp $30
Trade. What a bore, right? Even chief executives whose companies' fortunes often rise and fall on the outcome of international skirmishes over imported oilseeds and golf carts would sooner pick up a television remote control at the end of the day than a 452-page opus that explores the origins of America's trade policy.
But wait. Put down the remote and give Trade Warriors: USTR and the American Crusade for Free Trade a try. Author Steve Dryden, a former BUSINESS WEEK writer, has produced a lively and authoritative history of the U.S. Trade Representative's Office that is destined to become an important reference work.
Dryden's thesis is that trade has become a central force guiding both domestic and foreign policy in the new global economy. "With the arrival of truly global commerce, trade has a greater impact on the American economy, and most of it is positive," the author asserts. Rather than get hung up on oilseeds, golf carts, and legalisms, Dryden loosely builds each chapter of his history around the colorful and often quirky personalities of trade honchos, starting with William L. Clayton, a soft-spoken Houston millionaire whose efforts as Under Secretary of State to create the first International Trade Mrganization in 1947 ended in failure. But 15 years later, Clayton's efforts launched the USTR.
Scanning the years between Clayton and current Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, the reader gets an education in the evolution of U.S. trade policy spiced with hundreds of juicy insider anecdotes. For example, there's the tongue-lashing that flamboyant Washington superlobbyist Robert S. Strauss received from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Russell B. Long (D-La.) when Strauss initially turned down the offer to become President Carter's Trade Representative: "Oh, I guess you're going to be a big HEEE-ro now and make yourself a million dollars and forget about the country? Well, you better not come up here with those big-time clients of yours because we'll kick your ass right out of town." Strauss changed his mind and, as the 1970s unfolded, went on to transform the Trade Representative's Office into a high-profile agency.
Trade policy dull? Not here.