President Carter yesterday proposed the reorganization of the government's scattered trade activities, concentrating policy powers under a strengthened special representative within a new Department of Commerce and Trade.
The proposal, partly intended to abate some Senate opposition to Carter's recently signed multilateral trade negotiation agreement, was immediately attacked by two key Senators as unacceptable, but something they could work around.
"The White House trade reorganization is a turkey," said Sen. William V. Roth (R-Del.), the ranking minority member of the Senate trade minority member of the Senate trade subcommittee who threatened delay of the MTN unless Carter proposed a new trade department to protect U.S. interests under the agreement.
"It's unacceptable to me," continued Roth, who with Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.) had proposed a broader trade reorganization bill. "They have offered us a second rate reorganization for a first class problem, a second rate solution to a first rate opportunity."
"I think the government affairs committee will work these proposals over and come up with a better program," said Ribicoff, chairman of that committee, which handles such reorganization plans.
Despite low leadership ratings of Carter in public opinion polls, Ambassador Robert S. Strauss, Carter's special trade representative, yesterday repeatedly praised the President's "leadership" in trade matters during a briefing on the proposal.
Blame for the country's widening trade deficit and inability to match foreign competition can be laid to "25 years of neglect," Strauss said, and not any one person or agency.
The MTN was a step in furthering the country's trade posture, Strauss said, and the reorganization plan is the next.
Although several shifts of responsibility were proposed under Carter's plan, "We didn't fool with things that were working" such as the Agriculture Department's and Export-Import Bank's effectiveness in foreign trade.
Changes propsed by Carter yesterday include:
Consolidat ion of U.S. trade policy negotiations and coordination with the Office of the U.S. Trade-Representative which will replace the Office of the Special Trade Representative. The office's responsibilities, now limited primarily to trade negotiations, would be expanded to include industrial and agricultural trade policy coordination, and East-West trade. Strauss denied reports that East-West trade, now under the authority of the State Department, was moved to the cabinet level office because of White House attempts to strengthen its influence over trade relations with China and the Soviet Union.
Consolidate the day-to-day operation of government nonagricultural trade activities in the new Department of Commerce and Trade, formerly the Commerce and Trade, formerly the Commerce Department.
The reorganization would establish the post of undersecretary for trade, strengthen the department's role in export promotion and give the department the responsibility for implementing the MTN. The plan would assign the department authority over anti-dumping, countervailing duties and national security trade investigations, now under the Treasury Department, and unfair import practices, now under the International Trade Commission.
Broaden the responsibilities of the interagency Trade Policy Committee which would include a new Trade Negotiation Committee. Straus said that the Trade Policy Committee would "act as a barrier to possible protectionist tilt" that critics said would emanate from the Commerce and Trade Department under the reorganization.
Roth, who favored a smaller, tighter trade department, said in a telephone interview that many of the administrations proposal changes amounted to shuffling people around.
"No one looks upon the Commerce Department as an aggressive agency that can get things done," Roth said. The proposal won't pass the way it is." Roth vowed to work with the administration to "move this in the right direction."
A Roth aide said that the President's proposal probably would not affect the Senate vote on the MTN expected next week.