When U.S. Trade Representative William E. Brock meets in Paris next week with the ministers of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, high on the list of items for discussion will be curbing protectionism, reducing high interest rates in the United States and the status of energy conservation.
But also on the agenda will be an issue strongly pushed by U.S. trade officials -- the opening of multilateral trade negotiations (MTN) to establish agreements on trade in services. The OECD ministers will be taking the first major political step toward those negotiations by endorsing a communique stating the importance of establishing rules for trade in services. Services consist of industries such as engineering, construction, banking, accounting, shipping, insurance, movies, advertising, aviation and communications.
"In a large number of services there are no agreements at all," said Geza Feketekuty, assistant U.S. trade representative. "Countries do what they please."
The international flow of goods, such as textiles and agriculture products, is controlled by multilateral and bilateral agreements. Some trade in services also is covered by bilateral agreements, and some indirect services related to the goods trade are covered under MTN agreements on government procurement, product standards and subsidies.
During the Tokyo Round of the latest MTN agreements, services were discussed briefly, but many of the other nations hadn't been briefed on the importance of services so that area was left open for later discussions, Feketekuty said.
For example, there is no general agreement on the use of airport property for commercial airlines, Feketekuty said. So at some airports, foreign carriers may not be allowed to have their own personnel on hand or they may be shoved to an out-of-the-way section of the airport.
U.S. trade officials' interest in services has grown because the trade itself has increased with the advancement of technology, data processing, communications, transportation and credit cards, Feketekuty said.
The insurance industry is at the forefront of the push for services agreements. Insurors are barred from selling their services in many countries, Feketekuty said. Credit card companies have been strong overseas, but lately firms in some countries have decided to issue their own cards and are attempting to keep the American firms out.
On the other hand, the United States has its own restrictions on services.
For example, American officials on business trips abroad must fly in American-made aircraft unless no other transportation is available, Feketekuty said. The insurance industry is regulated by each state so that international firms attempting to do business here must abide by as many as 51 different sets of regulations.
After the communique is agreed on by the OECD ministers next week, U.S. officials hope to use the next one to two years to work out details of the problems confronting each industry in each country and how agreements would affect the United States as well as its trading partners, Feketekuty said. And multilateral negotiations on services could be many years in the future.
Service industries employ 71 percent of nonagricultural employes and generate 65 percent of the gross national product. A conservative estimate of U.S. export earnings for services in 1979 is $36 billion, but it could be twice as much because only sketchy information is available.