The Bush administration on Friday charged 34 countries with erecting significant trade barriers against U.S. products in the first stage of a process that could result in retaliation against nations that refuse to open their doors to American goods.
The U.S. review, ordered by the 1988 trade law, has raised fears from Bonn to Tokyo about what actions the United States might take against countries it brands as persistently unfair traders.Japan was given the most space in Friday's report with 18 pages of complaints about trade barriers. Complaints against the 12-nation European Community and South Korea occupied nine pages each.
In all, "The National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers" singled out 34 separate nations, the European Community and the Gulf Cooperation Council, a trading group that includes Saudi Arabia, as trading partners with major barriers to U.S. products.
The report, prepared by U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills, is the first step in drawing up a "hit list" of priority countries the administration will target for intensive negotiations aimed at getting the trade barriers eliminated. That priority list, drawn from the countries mentioned Friday, is due on May 30.
The requirment for a target list of countries, known as the "Super 301" provision, was the most controversial section of the 1988 Omnibus Trade Act.
Many economists worry it could set off a global trade war in which U.S. efforts to punish unfair trade practices are met by counter-retaliation against American products.
Foreign governments, which are concerned by the tight deadlines for negotiations to be completed, have already mounted an intensive lobbying effort to keep from being placed on the priority list.
Inside the administration, there is a debate raging as well over whether to put Japan on the list.
Joshua Bolten, general counsel of the U.S. trade office, told reporters that the decision about which countries to target on May 30 would reflect such factors as the amount of U.S. trade being kept out by a particular barrier.
"We have to set priorities and decide which practices to push the hardest on," Bolten said.
The United States must initiate negotiations with the countries on the priority list with a deadline of achieving results within 18 months. The countries then would have three years to live up to the agreements and remove the trade barriers America finds offensive.
Should the negotiations prove unfruitful or a country fail to implement the agreement, the trade law gives the administration the power to impose tariffs of up to 100 percent on selected imports.
In Friday's report, the countries named were Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Egypt, West Germany, Finland, France, Greece, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, Venezuela and Yugoslavia.