A TWO-WAY STREET

EACH DAY, AT DOZENS of airports around the country, American Airlines gathers up the tickets handed in containing passengers' names, cities of flight origin and destination and ticket cost. Then it ships them to Barbados where keypunch operators key the data onto magnetic tape for transmission by satellite to the airline's central computer in Tulsa, Okla.

The work used to be done in Tulsa, but American found that by going to Barbados it could cut its labor costs substantially. A data entry clerk in Tulsa earns anywhere from $250 to $300 a week. In Barbados the going rate is about $50.Similarly, Mead Data Central, the Dayton, Ohio news, legal and medical data retrieval concern, ships jobs overseas when its regular force becomes overburdened.

There are other reasons for going abroad. There is no need to go through the difficult and time consuming process of hiring. By the same token, there is no firing problem later. No training is required. Nor is it necessary to establish and pay costly fringe benefits.

The growth of such activities in places like Jamaica, the Philippines and India attests to the available huge labor force of English-speaking clericals, often with superior education.

Even for word processing, however, knowledge of English isn't a necessity. Like newspaper linotypers of old, workers who make no attempt to understand what they are punching out - operators who know no English are an obvious example - often produce more accurate work.

Data entry isn't the only white collar work going offshore. Large engineering firms regularly have drafting and design detail done by Indian engineers. Architects may go to Hong Kong. And computer programming can be done as readily in Kenya as in Texas.

All this speaks to the fact that the services revolution is by no means limited to the industrialized nations. Third World countries are enjoying substantial growth in white collar employment. Jamaica, for instance, now lists 2,000 workers in 22 data entry companies compared with 200 workers in three companies three years ago.

Many such nations, however, continue to discriminate mightily against the free entry of U.S. service industries. Taiwan, for instance, has only begun to lift the barriers to U.S. insurance companies.

The United States rightfully has made services a prime item on the agenda of the new round of GATT talks that begins next month in Geneva. Third World and newly industrialized countries must be made to realize that trade in services, like trade in goods, is a two-way street. And that continued discrimination won't be tolerated.

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