Proposals to reduce international trade barriers will be among "the hottest issues" debated by Congress next year, reaching an intensity comparable to the battle this past year over the Panama Canal treaty, Robert S. Strauss predicted yesterday.
Strauss, the President's Special Trade Representative, told a breakfast meeting with reporters, "this country has tremendous protectionist sentiment" that will be organized to fight rtade liberalization.
The proposals that wil come before Congress are now being negotiated in Geneva by the United States, the European Economic Community, Japan and others.
Strauss expressed the hope and belief that these multi-lateral trade negotiations (MTN), designed to lower tariffs and reduce or eliminate nontariff barriers, will be brought to a conclusion by the dne of the year, "if the political will is there around the world."
But in response to questions, he acknowledged that there are some obstacles that could bring a swift end to the whole process, even before Congress can consider the entire MTN agreement.
For example, the textile industry may effectively scuttle the agreement if it succeeds in getting Congress to exclude its products from the Geneva negotiations. "That would be almost a death-knell for the negotiations," Strauss said.
"You can't remove that much from the negotiations and expect the other countries to negotiate with us." Strauss said "It's like a high stakes poker game when you pull all of the chips off the table, and all you're left with is th cards."
President Carter has already vetoed one legislative effort by the U.S. textile industry to exclude itself from the negotiations. A new opportunity presents itself because of the Administration must now introduce a bill proposing to extend for six to eight months a waiver that expires on January 3, permitting the U.S. to refrain from imposing countervailing duties on subsidized imports from Europe.
At the moment, the certainty of expiration (at least temporarily) of the waiver is a principal roadblock to the successful conclusion of the MTN negotiations.Strauss is counting on getting a quick, simple extension of the waiver when Congress returns in January. But if the textile exlusion is added as a rider to the waiver extension and passes, it may be the end of the meaningful negotiations.
In Washington two weeks ago, Common Market executive Sir Roy Denman made plain not only that there would be no European agreement without extension of the waiver, but that the European community insists on greater reductions in U.S. tariffs, especially textiles and chemicals.
Strauss nevertheless predicted that there would be agreement in principle within the next couple of weeks, despite strong French resistance on the ground that on balance, the U.S. is getting too much out of the negotiations. "At present possible that if the French position remains unchanged, it will be a subject of discussion between French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Carter at the Guadeloupe Summit in January.
Strauss said that he hoped that Congress would approve the MTN by August or September. He would then retire as Special Trade representative and return to his private law practice, devoting part time to President Carter's re-election campaign.
He said that "I have no reason to think that he (Carter) doesn't intend to run." At Tuesday's press conference, Carter said he had made up his mind whether or not to run, but deferred an announcement of his decision until "later".
Strauss said that there would be no dramatic benefit to the U.S. trade balance "over-night" tf there werre a successful conclusion of the MTN, but that after a few years, there would be beneficial effects for industry, agriculture, and consumers. But he conceded that the program will be difficult to sell to protectionist-minded labor unions and to some industries.