Even usually staunch supporters of President Bush's trade policy Thursday criticized his trade mission to Japan at a hearing held by the Senate Finance Committee.
And most of the panel's members said President Bush had made a big mistake by not bringing Carla Hills, U.S. trade representative, along on the trip. The president traveled with a cadre of business executives, including the chairmen of the three major U.S. auto makers.Mrs. Hills appeared before the committee to defend the president's trip and was joined by J. Michael Farren, Commerce Department undersecretary, who negotiated several trade agreements reached during the three-day visit earlier this month.
While many Democrats have attacked the president for not getting firmer commitments from Japan to lower trade barriers, free-trade advocates on the panel from both parties suggested that President Bush's new approach to Japan could undermine long-term efforts to bring down trade barriers in the Uruguay Round of world trade talks.
They agreed with the president's critics, such as Sen. Donald Riegle, D- Mich., that the trip seemed to be a half-hearted attempt to shore up support for the president during the present election year.
Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., said that the trip gave U.S. auto executives a platform to attack U.S. policy and push protectionism. "Some of the crying and high visibility, particularly by the auto executives, was embarrassing to them and to our country."
Sen. William Roth., R-Del., said he was "fearful that in this presidential election year, rather than seek constructive answers, (trade policy) will deteriorate into American Japan-bashing . . . It's very popular politically, but it doesn't create a single job in America."
Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., said that new pledges by Japan to buy $10 million in U.S. auto parts and increase imports of American cars "have a tinge of managed trade." He added that "the solutions to (America's economic problems) are not going to be found in Tokyo, they are going to be found in Washington. Its like going to the Sahara to find water."
Sen. Bradley and several other committee members said that the outcome of the president's trip contradicted U.S. aims in the Uruguay Round, which is being negotiated in Geneva under the 103-nation General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
Mr. Farren asserted that the trip was a success and that even executives
from the "Big Three" U.S. auto companies had praised the outcome.
Lloyd Bentsen, committee chairman, said, "I don't see that at all," referring to negative commments from the Big Three, and he criticized the fact that the United States had not sought hard commitments from Japan to open its markets.
More than an attack on the administration, the hearing demonstrated the overwhelming support in Congress this year for a toughening of U.S. trade law.
Even Sen. Danforth, who is among Mrs. Hills' biggest fans on the committee, indicated that the current administration's reluctance to use the so-called Section 301 sanctions required an amendment that would make its use harder to avoid.
Section 301 sets penalties for nations that use tariff barriers or unreasonable regulation to close their markets to U.S. goods.
While Sen. Riegle is pushing a much tougher bill that would require Japan eliminate its trade deficit with the United States in five years, Sens. Danforth and Max Baucus, D-Mont., favor such a "Super 301" law. Mrs. Hills indicated that the administration remains opposed to Super 301, which was in effect from 1988 to 1990, because it assigns deadlines to trade negotiations.