The global marketplace is becoming "increasingly unbalanced," especially with respect to the insurance industry, a U.S. official said this week.
"We want treatment no less favorable than what domestic companies receive," Linda Powers, a trade representative from the Department of Commerce, told the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.Ms. Powers and other trade officials are aggressively pursuing U.S. objectives during the ongoing General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade talks being held in Geneva.
Those discussions are designed to remove trade walls. "Countries are consulting with each other about the barriers they want to see removed," Ms. Powers said.
The requests range from tariff reductions to the types of investment and business arrangements that will be allowed. Proposals will be reviewed and voted on separately over a four-year time period.
According to Ms. Powers, U.S. insurers operating abroad have experienced everything from market resistance to massive bureaucratic red tape.
India, for example, bars entry to foreign insurers, while Japan stalls product availability so that its domestic insurers can match a foreign competitor's technology and pricing.
In order to discourage protectionism, the United States applies Section 301 trade restrictions.
Those measures include everything from tariffs to citing other countries as "unfair traders," subject to possible sanctions.
But such penalties are only as a "last resort," said the Commerce Department official, adding that GATT discussions are the most relied upon means of persuading countries to open up their borders to foreign investment.
Problems still exist, however, with those multilateral discussions.
The biggest obstacle, Ms. Powers said, is whether the terms of the agreement will be mandatory obligations or voluntary objectives.
The United States would like each country bound to the GATT contract.
It has agreed, however, to a compromise saying that "reservations" could be made about some trade provisions, allowing the rules to be sidestepped in some cases.
Developing nations are another sticking point; those countries want relief
from such provisions as technology transfers and labor mobility.
U.S. officials agree less developed countries need more flexibility, so they may allow some counties more time to comply with GATT.