President Reagan accelerated his fall trade offensive yesterday, ordering two more unfair-trade complaints and announcing that Taiwan has dropped its bars to sales of American cigarettes, beer and wine as a result of the threat of U.S. action.
The new unfair-trade complaints were lodged against European Community export subsidies for wheat, which the White House said cost U.S. farmers an estimated $2 billion in lost foreign sales over the past four years, and Korea's failure to offer patent and copyright protection, causing at least $170 million a year in losses to American businesses.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes acknowledged that neither action goes as far as the president could go under existing laws against unfair trade practices.
Nonetheless, Speakes pointed to Taiwan's agreement to settle a long-simmering trade dispute as evidence that President Reagan's campaign against unfair trade practices is working. He hailed Taiwan's action as "the product of the president's get-tough policy on trade."
"The market-opening step by Taiwan is particularly gratifying because it represents the kind of response we would hope to receive from all nations to our request for elimination of trading practices that prohibit free and fair competition between the goods and services produced by all nations," he said in a White House briefing.
He said U.S. cigarette sales could increase by as much as $210 million a year as a result of Taiwan's action.
Speakes said administration trade officials are studying at least a dozen more instances of possible unfair-trade cases in an effort to end practices that hurt sales of American products overseas and make it easier for other countries to flood the United States with imports.
Yesterday's moves against Korea and the European Community are part of a White House effort to deflect a bipartisan protectionist drive in Congress, which returned from its August recess angry over what was seen as the Reagan administration's failure to act on record trade deficits, job losses and factory closings. On Sept. 7, the White House announced five other complaints against Japan, Korea, Brazil and the European Community.
Reagan's six-week trade blitz appears to be succeeding; a bill to reduce textile imports sharply got fewer House votes than expected, and its margin of victory was smaller than needed to overturn a veto.
"I sense that the protectionist sentiment in Congress has crested, and that the normally free-trade majority will back away from its support of unwise bills," Commerce Undersecretary Bruce Smart said in a speech prepared for delivery last night to the Foreign Policy Association in New York.
At the White House, Speakes said the instigation of the trade complaints yesterday "certainly puts teeth into the president's remarks and speeches and puts actions where his words are.
"It's a clear signal, both to the Congress . . . and to other nations who are engaging in unfair trade practices against the United States that we mean business," he continued.
But Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), head of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, disputed the success of the Reagan program and called the latest trade cases "a political Band-Aid that he hopes will calm voter concerns over the tremendous job drain overseas."
Reagan ordered U.S. Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter to take U.S. farmers' longstanding complaints against subsidized European wheat to the Geneva-based General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), whose lengthy dispute settlement mechanism can stall a decision for years. But Speakes said the White House expects a settlement within a year.
He said subsidies have allowed Western European farmers to double, from 8 percent to more than 16 percent, their share of the world's $14.5 billion wheat market. "U.S. farmers are pinched from two sides: lower prices and reduced export volumes," Speakes said.
While GATT does not forbid agricultural subsidies, international rules governing trade prohibit using those subsidies to gain "more than an equitable share" of a market, the White House said.
In the Korean case, Yeutter was ordered to initiate an investigation under U.S. law of Korea's copyright and patent protection of American intellectual property. Speakes said Korean laws fail to protect foods, chemical compounds and books, which are counterfeited and sold in that country without any benefits to U.S. copyright and patent holders.
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, Yeutter was urged by senators to include Japan's aluminum industry in the next batch of presidentially initiated unfair-trade complaints. Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Sen. Paul S. Trible Jr. (R-Va.) said the Japanese government uses high tariffs to keep U.S. aluminum out of Japan and subsidizes its domestic industry to allow it to sell in the United States.
"Our domestic aluminum industry is experiencing devastating impacts as a result of unfair Japanese trade practices," asserted Trible. "I believe it's time to force the Japanese government and its aluminum industry to trade on a more equitable basis."
Yeutter, however, said he remains unconvinced that Japan's practices with its aluminum industry are as unfair as the senators and industry representatives charged.
On another subject, Yeutter said he is blocking a possible settlement of an unfair-trade complaint brought against Japan by U.S. semiconductor makers because it appears Tokyo merely is raising the possibility of a deal to get rid of the case. He told the Foreign Relations Committee that the semiconductor case, involving a leading American high-technology industry, is too important to be papered over by the Japanese.