ROSALIND RACHID'S TRADE TALK

ROSALIND RACHID'S TRADE TALK

YOU'D NEVER GUESS which high-ranking official in the Bush administration flies fighter planes for fun.

Customs Commissioner Carol Boyd Hallett!You know, the same neat, middle-aged lady with the smiling eyes, who has such a warm greeting for every individual in the room, and makes you feel quite special when she talks with you.

She flies F-16s and F-18s, aerial acrobatics and all.

She confirmed this last Wednesday night, when she spoke at the Harvard Club in New York. The occasion was the second annual dinner of the New York chapter of the National Organization of Women in International Trade.

Mrs. Hallett is a classical pianist as well. But that doesn't make you say ''WOW!" like her fighter-plane hobby does.

Wonder what William von Raab, Mrs. Hallett's predecessor, does for fun?

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MRS. HALLETT WAS VERY UPBEAT about relations between Customs and the community it serves.

"At the center of my philosophy is a conviction that there are no problems that can't be solved by the formula of the 'four Cs,' " she said.

That stands for consultation, communication, coordination and cooperation, she explained. "I plan to use that formula liberally," she added.

But, she warned, "We don't really have a great big pot of gold that we can just dish out from every time there is a problem," even though Customs got a $54 billion increase in this year's budget.

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ALAS, THE VERY NEXT MORNING, Mrs. Hallett's boss, Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady, announced that another 1,000 U.S. Customs special agents will be given the investigative authority to combat drug smuggling and related

drug-money laundering.

"Hopefully, they'll be using them more effectively now. Hopefully, they'll be looking for the drugs instead of going after the apparel importers for pants and shirts," was the immediate reaction of Laura Jones, president of the New York WIT group, and executive director of the United States Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel.

Emphasis on drug interdiction during Mr. von Raab's reign had soured relations between Customs and the trade community. The agency's zealous involvement in seeking out illegal drug imports resulted in delays in delivery, seizures and damage to legitimate incoming merchandise, importers, brokers and lawyers complained.

"I don't mind Customs devoting a lot of resources to drugs, which is a horrendous problem in this country," Ms. Jones said. "What we do mind is when people have their containers searched repeatedly and nothing is found. There has to be some way to turn off the inspections."

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THE PACE OF THE URUGUAY ROUND of multilateral trade negotiations slowed in the first two-and-a-half months of this year, at a time when the tempo should be accelerating, a senior U.S. official said.

The official said the negotiators had been making satisfactory progress until they got bogged down in a long and unproductive argument over tariffs.

"We need to begin to narrow the issues down by the middle of the year," he said, noting that would leave five months of hard bargaining before the round's scheduled conclusion in Brussels in early December.

Differences between the United States and the European Community over agriculture still pose the biggest problem in the round. Even if the United States and the EC were so inclined, they can't sweep the issue under the table, the official said, because the Cairns Group - composed of 14 other countries that export farm products - is pushing for drastic reforms so that its members can increase their foreign sales.

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WATCH OUT FOR AN ANTIQUE FURNITURE industry right in America's backyard.

Medallian Galleries in Kingston, Jamaica, is planning to make it big in the U.S. market with its antique reproductions in mahogany and cedar.

Medallian currently ships items to the EC duty-free under the Lome Convention. The same duty privilege is allowed for the United States under the Caribbean Basin Initiative.

Medallion will showcase its pieces April 2-4 at this year's Furniture Focus in Kingston.