Threats of budget cuts on Oct. 1 have grounded some of the U.S. government's most frequent fliers, its trade negotiators, federal officials said.
The United States is leaning on foreign negotiators to come here instead.
According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), a recent negotiating session with Japan on materials called amorphous metals, originally scheduled for Tokyo, took place here instead. A routine October meeting, normally held in Hawaii, will be conducted here instead.
USTR reckons it can save about 95 percent of the cost. How does Japan feel about being stuck with bigger travel expenses? An embassy spokesman here joked that "we appreciate U.S. efforts to reduce the budget deficit" and therefore Japan is willing to play along.
Not only is affluent Japan affected by the recent unwillingness of U.S. trade negotiators to travel, USTR spokesman Tim O'Leary said. The United States next month will begin negotiating trade and investment agreements with far-from-affluent Bulgaria, which like most Eastern European countries is struggling to introduce some free-market dynamism into its economy.
"The Bulgarians asked that these talks be held in Sophia and we had to say, 'Could we please have them in Washington?' " said O'Leary.
There have been no cuts, however, in travel to meetings for the so-called Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the Geneva-based organization that polices world trade. "That's the president's highest priority," O'Leary said.
If no budget compromise is found, the trade representative's office plans to shut down on Fridays. It will buy only essential office supplies and ban overtime. And the chief, Carla A. Hills, plans to drive her own car to work, to save the cost of a driver.