U.S. accuses 44 nations of unfair trade practices

April 01, 1993|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration yesterday accused 44 nations -- particularly Japan -- of unfair trade practices and warned that it would use "market-opening measures" to promote free world trade.

"We believe that the markets of our trading partners should be comparably open to those in the United States," U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor said in a statement accompanying the release of an annual report on international trade barriers and major offenders.

Over the past five years, U.S. merchandise exports have risen 76 percent, to $448 billion, one of the few sources of economic strengthduring the recent recession and recovery. But the Clinton administration says it believes exports would rise further if world markets were more open.

By the end of April, the administration will select for particular pressure a group of nations from the 44 listed in the report. These nations will be told to improve their trade practices to avoid U.S. reprisals, which could include higher tariffs.

Japan, with which the United States had a $50 billion trade deficit last year, was accused of erecting the most barriers, including closed markets, import bans and quotas on U.S. imports.

Among the structural barriers identified in the report were government regulations that impede foreign investment and operations and Japan's government-industry advisory committees, which put foreign companies at a disadvantage.

In 1992, U.S. merchandise exports to Japan were $47.8 billion; Japanese exports to the United States were $97.2 billion.

The second-worst offender, according to the administration, was the European Community, which is locked in a series of trade disputes with the United States. Alleged unfair practices involve agricultural subsidies, which the administration estimates exclude U.S. agriculture sales of up to $5 billion, and national procurement policies, which hinder U.S. access to the market for electricity generation, telecommunications switching equipment, satellites, and construction.

Despite the barriers, the United States ran a trade surplus with the EC in 1992 of $8.8 billion, on exports of $102.8 billion, down from a surplus of $16.9 billion in 1991.

In Brussels this week, Mr. Kantor withdrew the immediate threa of a trade war with the Europeans but set a three-week deadline for a settlement to be reached in the dispute over public procurement policy. Mr. Kantor said he was "neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a realist" over an agreement being reached when he next meets the EC's trade negotiator, Sir Leon Brittan, in Washington on April 19.

The report yesterday zeroed in on international trade barriers concerning tariffs and licensing requirements, restrictive testing and labeling standards, and barriers to services and investments.

The report also pointed to the lack of intellectual-property protection, to prevent pirating of designer fashions, computer software, videotapes and other products. This is a major issue in the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Mr. Kantor said yesterday that he would push for completion of the latest round of talks, which began in 1986.

Ira Shapiro, general counsel in the U.S. trade representative's office, said the administration would work with major trading partners to target countries that steal ideas without paying any royalties or copyright.

Mr. Shapiro said the administration, which held talks with Taiwa on the issue of cheap trademark imitations and copies, was monitoring China, which signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States last year on protecting U.S. copyrights, patents and trade secrets.

The administration credited Mexico, which is a signatory of the North American Free Trade Agreement, with tightening intellectual-property protection and with liberalizing its import policies but took issue with its standards, testing, labeling and certification systems and with its government procurement procedures.

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