The postwar international economic system was designed with three organizations at its heart, an International Monetary Fund; an International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank); and an International Trade Organization to lay down rules for world trade, and to interpret and enforce them.

Only the IMF and World Bank were created. The International Trade Organization, or ITO, never got off the ground. It was killed by congressional skepticism, by business opposition in the United States, and by suspicion and indifference in Europe.The role the ITO was meant to play was later partially - but never completely - filled by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

The GATT, as it's called, was never intended to be an organization. Strictly speaking, it's merely an international treaty with 92 signatories and a secretariat to administer it. Nevertheless, over the past 40 years - adding up all the pluses and minuses - the GATT has created an international environment in which multinational businesses have been able to grow and prosper. But a lot has happened since the 1940s:

* The Bretton Woods system collapsed.

* Europe, while initially enjoying rapid growth, has slipped into relative economic stagnation.

* Japan has grown to become the second most powerful economy in the world.

* The United States became a net debtor, with its external debt heading toward $1 trillion by the end of this decade.

* The OPEC nations provoked three major oil crises (two up, one down), which led to huge global financial imbalances.

* The external debt of the developing countries ballooned to almost $900 billion.

* The United States is staggering under record trade and budget deficits.

* Finally, the rate of world trade growth has slowed, non-tariff trade

barriers are multiplying, and throughout much of the world we see economic stagnation, overcapacity in industry and depressed commodity prices.

In addition to these dramatic developments, there is another phenomenon sweeping the world: the unprecedented growth of economic interdependence. Advances in technology, the spread of deregulation, and the globalization of suppliers and markets have created a world in which domestic policy is no longer clearly distinguishable from foreign policy.

Times have changed, and the rate of change will continue to increase. We stand at a crossroad: Do we follow the path of protectionism, with unilateral pursuit of economic policy? Or do we choose the path on which our feet were first set some 40 years ago?

Only through shared responsibility, better coordinated economic policies and joint action can the international system accommodate the problems pressing in around us. The institutions we have depended upon to run this system since World War II - the World Bank, IMF and GATT - have an even bigger role to play: a role similar in scope to that first conceived for them four decades ago.

We must go back to that period to select those concepts that are still relevant to today's reality. The question is: Which concepts?

A concept critical to resurrect is that of multilateral consultation and joint action. Some progress has been made in this direction:

* First, in September 1985, the Group of 5 agreed to consult on economic policy, to bring down the dollar, and to synchronize domestic policies.

* Second, at the Tokyo Economic Summit the industrialized nations re- emphasized the need for joint action, and the Group of 5 grew to 7 with the addition of Canada and Italy.

From the Group of 5, now 7, some progress has come. On the one hand, the

dollar has dropped sharply, even though it has not fallen much against certain important currencies. On the other hand, little progress has been made on policy synchronization.

Japan is moving, albeit slowly, to stimulate domestic demand, to open its markets - and it is in the process of revising its tax code. Germany isn't moving much. And the United States has failed to bring its budget deficit under control, with the result that we are looking toward a 1986 trade deficit of close to $170 billion.

There is one promising development between the United States and Japan: The "G-2" agreed to tackle domestic economic problems, to stabilize the yen/ dollar rate, and to promote joint action by the key industrial nations to generate world economic growth, reduce imbalances and resolve the debt crisis.

Since the United States and Japan together account for 70 percent of the industrialized world's GNP and 40 percent of the world's GNP, a G-2 arrangement is a good place to start.

Another 1940s' concept worth considering is that the IMF and World Bank should return to some of the goals laid out in their original charters. For example, the articles of the IMF specifically refer to the goal of ''. . . facilitating the expansion and balanced growth of international trade."

Only through the years did that role narrow, to that of simply accommodating exchange rate imbalances. The IMF and World Bank have already begun to explore new ways to expand and modify their current modes of operation, to use their leverage to promote open trade, private investment and economic growth.

The policy-makers of the 1940s recognized that neither trade nor financial policy exists in a vacuum. They are, in fact, uniquely interrelated. Trade is intimately linked with financial policy, with economic policy, with Third World debt, and with our own budget and trade deficits.

The "Uruguay Round" could be the first major reform of the international trading system since the formation of the GATT 40 years ago. It gives us another shot at going "back to the future" by embracing many of the objectives originally proposed for the ill-fated International Trade Organization in the 1940s.

Read the ITO's charter - it's fascinating. Namely, it sets forth what we hope the "Uruguay Round" will allow the GATT to become. The 1948 charter of the ITO was studded with "firsts":

* The first attempt to eliminate the abuses caused by monopolies and cartels.

* The first explicit recognition of the interdependence of overseas private investment and economic development.

The ITO charter also called for:

* A general agreement on principles for investment.

* Cooperation, coordination and consultation with the IMF and World Bank.

* Rules on restrictive business practices.

* Principles for trade in services. It took almost 40 years to revive the services issue.

* Rules on agriculture, including subsidies.

* Measures to address non-tariff barriers.

* Fair labor standards.

* A real dispute settlement mechanism.

The only thing that the "Uruguay Round" will add that wasn't printed four decades back is a standstill and rollback of protectionist measures that have grown up since. And, of course, intellectual property is a new area. It's too bad we lost this chapter 40 years ago. I hope we can republish it over the next few years.

To negotiate an agreement that effectively addresses our trade problems, however, cooperation between the administration, Congress and the business community is absolutely essential. We must work together as partners, not adversaries. I was encouraged by Treasury Secretary James Baker's remarks that the administration was prepared to take the initiative and work with Congress on trade legislation in 1987. This is a step in the right direction.

But remember, it was the hostility of Congress and apathy in the business community that killed the ITO 40 years ago. Let's not have an instant replay.

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