New trade team appears capable, but may need a little more diversity

The Outlook

December 22, 1996|By JAY HANCOCK

AMONG THE NEW players in the Clinton administration is a revamped economic and trade team. Chicago political aide William M. Daley, who was key in helping Clinton get congressional approval for the North American Free Trade Agreement, is the new commerce secretary. He replaces Mickey Kantor, who came aboard after Ron Brown was killed this year.

Gene Sperling was the dark horse named to head the National Economic Council, which was started by Clinton to coordinate national and domestic economic policy. He replaces Laura D'Andrea Tyson, economist from the University of California.

Charlene Barshefsky, who had been acting U.S. trade representative, was appointed to that job permanently, replacing Kantor, who left the administration.

What can Americans expect from the new team?

Richard Belous

Chief economist, National Planning Association

I think Barshefsky will be excellent. She's shown an ability to be both tough and flexible, which I think is quite good. She'll be able to follow in the footsteps of Mickey Kantor in terms of opening markets. I think it's a good choice, but it's a tough act. We want to encourage free trade and multilateralism, but sometimes to get markets to open it takes toughness, and she's shown an ability to do both.

Daley should be at home at the Commerce Department, because it almost reminds me of Chicago politics. First of all, it's so many things pushed together, and the other thing is you've probably got a lot of dead people collecting paychecks.

But I really think it is important. It was a very misguided notion to break up the Commerce Department, particularly in a time of greater sales of U.S. goods and services abroad. The group on the Hill now seems a little more moderate, but who knows? So I think it's important to have somebody who knows politics to defend the department.

Gene, to a certain extent, has been Mr. Insider. He's the person that, at all hours of the day and night, he's there. He's the person that has really held them together.

For the right person, running the National Economic Council can be extremely influential. First of all, it's the gatekeeper on a lot of domestic issues. The other ironic thing is, he's one of the few people there who has a history of going back to the beginning of the administration.

Gary Bohlke

Chairman, international practice, Semmes Bowen & Semmes

Every report I've ever heard on Charlene is that she's one amazing lady, in her prodigious efforts. Her counterparts eventually agree to sign anything she wants because they can't stand to be in the room any longer. They're all worn out, and she's still going strong.

Daley, I know less about. Hard working and dedicated, that type of person. But in terms of trade, I don't know.

The more interesting question is the whole Clinton administration and what he is doing with trade. There's no question that in the last four years he had pushed trade as a major arm of foreign policy, probably more than any other president. And I think he plans to keep on doing that.

First, he sees it has helped American industries. He sees it as an integral part of a strong American economy. In the foreign area, he sees it as a way to break down barriers that other countries have set up. I don't mean trade barriers, but political barriers. Take China. The more CDs and programs and videos you put into China, the more apt they are to change.

William Niskanen

Chairman, Cato Institute

The only one to come from outside, of course, is Daley. He looks very much like commerce secretaries have for many years. He's expected to promote exports and maybe bring in money to the party. Commerce secretaries are party operatives without any special background in business and, to use a rather harsh word, hustlers. But that's not specific to one kind of administration. That seems to be the case with the kind of people who are selected for commerce secretary these days.

Barshefsky is very able, and the only concern I have about her is that she feels compelled to look, act and talk tougher than any man around. But she's good and she's a pro. She's a tough and good negotiator, and I don't expect any policy change from that side.

Sperling is not an economist. He is basically a political operative with a specialty in economic policy. Again, he's coming from the inside. And in my experience in several administrations, there almost always is an inherent tension between the economists and Wall Street and business people and the political types. For the most part, that is productive tension.

But I worry that there is less diversity now. The implication of putting Sperling in that position is that they should be very careful to put someone with solid academic credentials in to replace Joe Stiglitz on the Council of Economic Advisers.

Pub Date: 12/22/96

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