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Short summary about present American trade policy's problems. Although, America is still booming, demand is falling in much of the rest of the world. So companies are exporting more to America instead. In some industries, notably steel, which already had excess capacity, their efforts have been frantic. Asian, Russian - and now Brasilian - firms have gained a competitive edge from falling exchange rates. Not surprisingly, their Amrican rivals are not amused. When the American economy slows, companies will feel even more squeezed by cheaper imports. As unemployment rises from its current lows the protectionist constituency is sure to grow, just as it has done in previous slowdowns. What is worryngly different this time is that the outbreak of protectionism in America has started while the economy is still strong. True, some exporters will resist any measures that invite foreign retaliation. And companies, that buy supplies abroad will fight anything that raises their costs. Caterpillar a tractor maker has come out against imposing quotas on foreign steel. It is considered, that America must keep its borders open to imports from crisis-[АД1]--hit economies so as to ward off the threat of world recession. Moreover, world trade rules may deter America from erecting import barriers. But these constraints are far from fail safe. Producers threatened by imports are concentrated, organised and vocal those who benefit from trade are diffuse and their stake in any specific case is usually small industries, such as steel, have huge political clout. And since exports are also shrinking the free trade lobby is weaker than usual. Moreover, many companies that buy abroad are loth to speak out for free trade now in case they want protection later. General Motors, a big steel user has failed to stand up to the steel lobby. What of world trade rules? For a start, they allow some protectionist measures, notably anti-umping duties on imports that are deemed unfairly cheap. America could also defy world trade rules, at least until the WTO forces it to mend its ways which can take several years. Countries that are not WTO members, such as China, Taiwan and Russia, are especially vulnerable to trade sanctions because they do not have the protection of the WTO. A wholesale retreat behind tariff barriers is unlikely. But a creeping rise in protection is on the cards "It will be like throwing a lot of sand in the gears, rather than putting a monkey wrench in," argues Jeffrey Garten, dean of the Yale School of Management. Already, there has been a surge in anti-dumping cases. Twenty seven investigations were launched last year, up from 16 in 1997. Many more are in the offing this year. The steel industry, which is currently seeking relief from Japanese, Russian and Brazilian imports, is threatening a slew of new cases, notably against South Korea. Duties have been slapped on South Korean memory chips those from Taiwan are now being targeted. Cases are pending in machine tools, textiles and clothing, and even apple juice. The threat of anti-dumping duties is spurring some foreigners to cut their exports Japanese steel producers have unofficidlly agreed to reduce their exports to America to their level before the Asian crisis. The volume of Japanese steel exports to America fell by 14% in December 1998, the first monthly decline in 33 months. The steel industry is also pursuing an other path to protection. Through huge rallies in steel belt states and advertisements urging Americans to Stand Up for Steel, it is lobbying Congress to change the law, to make it easier, to get protection from imports. Their many demands include closer import monitoring, tighter anti-dumping laws and easier provisions for temporary safeguards against import surges. The administration has already made concessions. It is speeding up anti-dumping applications and promising retroactive penalties on imports On January 7th the White House offered steel makers a subsidy package that includes $300m of tax breaks. It is under great pressure to go further The White House will definitely give them something, say a specialists on American trade politics. If - as seems likely in the current climate - that involves changing the law to help steel makers, other industries will take advantage of the new provisions too. These wrangles over steel could turn into a full-blown trade war with both Japan and the EU. America is not alone in its reluctance to allow ailing firms to go to the wall, European and other producers want help too. The EU, for instance, is pursuing 13 steel anti-dumping cases, many more are in the pipeline. It is easy to imagine a tit-fortat war involving anti-dumping, subsidies, quotas and the like. Indeed, the EU is considering challenging America's new steel subsidies at the WTO. More broadly, America growls that the EU and Japan are not doing their fair share to absorb rising imports from Asia and elsewhere. Bill Clinton has threatened retaliatory protectionism unless the Japanese do more to open their markets. But America's complaints have met with hostility. RElations with the EU are also prickly. The banana war could soon become a beef war as well as the WTO has ruled against the EU'S ban on hormone treated beef imports but the EU is making no effort to comply. America and the EU are also clashing over mobile telephone standards and data privacy. The backdrop to all these disputes is that the EU no longer feels the need to play second fiddle to America on trade on responds in kind to what it sees as America's aggressive unilateralism. Tension with China is rising too. America's bilateral deficit with China at $57 billion in the year to November is second only to its deficit with Japan. China exports five times as much to America as it imports[АД2]. It is moreover an easy target for American sanctions since it has enacted its own measures to curb imports and cannot appeal to the WTO against any American action. The flashpoint could be Congress's annual vote in June on renewing normal trading relations with China which will be swayed by its human rights record. China could also be hit by a new law that allows the administration to impose sanctions on countries that persecute religious groups. A new round of trade talks could in the ory put the brakes on a slide into protectionism The risk of disrupting delicate negotiations might deter the administration from giving in to protectionist demands the prospect of new export markets would mobilise free traders. But Mr Clinton will be constrained by lack of popular support for freer trade which may make it impossi ble for him or his successor-to win a us able fast track mandate The fall out from NAFTA The roots of Mr Clinton s current dimcul ties lie in his first years in office In 1993
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