The first time Stephen P. Smoot, director of the U.S. Department of Commerce's U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service office in Salt Lake City, left his job it was the result of politics.
This time, the 69-year-old Smoot, who has completed 25 years as office director, will leave on his own terms. He is retiring April 30.Smoot was appointed office director by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, but was relieved of his duties in 1970 by President Richard Nixon because Smoot is a Democrat.
For 10 years Smoot was self-employed in the export-import business and he had connections in India, the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China.
In 1980, Smoot got his old job back when President Jimmy Carter was in office, but by then the job had been de-politicized and today remains as a professional job and not subject to the political winds.
For 25 years, Smoot has been trying to get Utah companies to do more importing and exporting with foreign countries. For his efforts, he was honored by the World Trade Association of Utah in 1988 for his "outstanding service and dedication in promoting trade."
Ironically, it has been Smoot's job to try and undo a trade protectionist attitude fostered by his grandfather's brother, the late Sen. Reed Smoot, R-Utah. Reed Smoot was partially responsible for passage of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 that placed high tariffs on goods coming into the United States.
To retaliate, foreign countries placed high tariffs on American goods, and in two years world exports and imports dropped from $34 billion to $11 billion. Stephen Smoot said the world learned a valuable lesson from the high tariffs and after World War II 20 nations combined to lower the barriers.
Now, 100 nations are involved in the World Trade Organization, and because tariffs average about 3 percent to 4 percent, the amount of world trade totals $5 trillion. Smoot said because the United States is an important part of a global economy it must be actively involved in importing and exporting.
Smoot said the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service has 70 offices in the United States and 200 in foreign countries with the sole mission of promoting trade. He said the agency provides data and other types of aid on where Utah companies would have the best success in exporting their products.
Many companies look to Canada when they first start exporting, Smoot said, because of the closeness to the United States and the similar language. Companies already exporting can rely on Smoot's agency for help in selecting other countries for their exporting expansion.