The Carter administration's chief trade policy maker has warned that the nation's new industrial policy anticipated by labor and the faltering steel and auto industries won't be geared to bailing out any particular industry or propping up "losers."
"We want to have policies that encourage growth and competitiveness without trying to prop up an industry that's considered a loser, a burden on taxpayers," U.S. Trade Representative Reubin Askew said during an interview this week.
Who are those losers? Without revealing his choices, Askew said that "some people might figure Chrysler needs propping up, the auto industry needs tremendous help."
"Any type of industrial policy would be comprehensive in nature," the silver-haired former governor of Florida said, "It's not a sector-to-sector bailout." Any policy won't be a permanent mechanism or formal economic planning, he added.
Although avoiding any specifics, Askew also discussed the future of the steel and auto industries and the possibility of increased friction between nations contributing to a worldwide trade war.
The trade official said that negotiations for a settlement of dumping complaints filed by U.S. Steel Corp. against seven European steel makers may begin next month, possibly ending months of friction and beginning another era of trade under a revamped trigger-price mechanism (TPM).
"September might be a good time for a real possibility of accommodation," said Askew. "If we reinstitute the TPM and do other things for U.S. Steel to dismiss the suits, it might be a basis that the European Community might be willing to live with, but not necessarily a part of a bilateral agreement."
The trigger-price mechanism is a two-year-old system that automatically generates an investigation when imported steel is shipped here below set prices. It was suspended last March by the Carter administration after U.S. Steel Corp. filed the antidumping suits. Some steel industry executives have been trying to get it back in an improved form.
But Askew, who has finished 10 months in trade diplomacy, said that he "can't tell" what the United States will do for the steel industry.
As for the U.S. auto industry, Askew said "its recovery is going to take a while. It's not going to bounce back in a year or so."
In the past President Carter has said restricting imports would be a mistake. because it would force up costs, Askew said. He quickly added, however, that he doesn't want to prejudge the case brought by the United Auto Workers Union to restrict the number of Japanese autos entering this country.
Askew said he sees as his greatest challenge fighting protectionist pressures from domestic industries.
"Western trading nations are all subjected to tremendous pressures," Askew said. "All kinds of protection must be carefully considered that could set off a chain reaction."
For example, Askew said that his office "managed to contain what might have been some very sensitive problems" like that with steel. He said that the EEC was considering imposition of a soy tax on the United States as dumping suits arose. The tax never materialized.
"I don't see any trade war developing," he said. But Askew added, "There certainly are the seeds for serious friction between some of the countries bilaterally.