By the close of the administration's first 100 days, President Bill Clinton's trade policy had come under heavy fire at home and abroad. Referring to the international shouting matches over computer chips, steel, minivans, aircraft manufacturing and government procurement contracts, The New York Times wrote of "a growing tension in trade relations provoked by President Clinton's new and more confrontational approach to international negotiations." The Wall Street Journal accused the administration of caring "less about principle than about making a political deal." The Economist called Washington's approach "at best incompetent and at worst a step down a slippery path towards protectionism." And The Financial Times urged Europe to side with Japan against America's new trade initiatives.
European Community ministers talked of America's "unilateral bullying" and of "having to grope in the dark" to figure out what the new Clinton team was trying to do. Japan's ambassador to theECwas more polite, saying only that America's top trade negotiator, Mickey Kantor, "is very new to trade matters." Jagdish Bhagwati, economic adviser to the director general of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), said: "This should be a spring of hope, and instead we get a nuclear winter."
In retrospect, such charges are not surprising. Fundamental policy changes are never easy to accommodate, and big changes should have been expected. Well before he was elected, Clinton was promising to recast the entire intellectual basis of U.S. trade policy. Trade was to be an integral part of creating competitive industries and high-wage jobs. It was to be placed at the center of foreign policy, becoming at least as important as political and security questions. Clinton had promised to remove the ideological blinders that caused government and industry to regard one another as antagonists. He had committed his administration to putting the issues of environmental and labor practices into trade negotiations. And so it has gone.
The fact is that critics of Clinton's trade policy have fired their shots prematurely and at the wrong
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