After Japan, a Bush Push for Trade

January 10, 1992

Luckily for President Bush, there is still a way for him to recover from his unfortunate four-nation swing through Asia. We are speaking not about the "intestinal flu" that laid him low in Tokyo (a less frenetic schedule might help) but about the role he assigns to trade policy in combating the current recession.

Instead of kowtowing to the "America First" voices chafing at him from left and right, Mr. Bush should come back from Japan asserting he had learned anew that protectionism is not the remedy for anything. If the Japanese resort to their invisible barriers to foreign imports, if the French and the Germans construct a "Fortress Europe," if other nations adhere to destructive mercantilist policies, the United States should have nothing to do with such approaches.

Yes, this country will retaliate -- though with great reluctance -- to protect its short-run position against unfair competition. But it should adhere unflaggingly to the concept that only a world with a free flow of goods and services, including vital agricultural products, can escape turmoil, suffering and environmental catastrophe.

The U.S. is not without potential allies in such a crusade. Great grain exporting nations, as the Australians made clear to a surprised George Bush, have a strong case for bringing agriculture into a reformed world trading system. Only they can supply the food needs of exploding Third World populations; the alternative is an assault on marginal, unproductive land, with ecological destruction the final result. The Third World nations themselves also would support an arrangement that would let market forces determine the international division of resources; unless they have access for their tropical and low-tech exports, their ability to feed themselves will remain constantly at risk.

Given the high stakes here, President Bush should reiterate strongly the urgent need for world trade reform. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) is to meet Jan. 13 for one more try at breaking its protracted deadlock over reforms that would lower barriers, bring service industries into the GATT system and combat pirating of patents, trade marks and copyrights.

European agricultural protectionism is the stumbling block. If Mr. Bush can smash it, perhaps even with Japanese help, he might yet mine some silver from his pyritic journey to Asia.

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