229. Paper Prepared by the President’s Special Assistant (Petersen)0

The alternative which has been suggested is to defer submission of a trade bill for the time being, presumably until the 1963 session of the Congress. There are some persuasive arguments in favor of this view. One is that the full implications of the expanded EEC have not yet sunk in among Americans and that another year would be helpful in rousing them both to the extraordinary challenge and the extraordinary opportunity created by the enlarged Community. A second argument is that the negotiating situation between Britain and the EEC will be much clearer a year hence; and, as a corollary, that it will be much more obvious what statutory powers the United States will need in order to deal with the EEC. Still a third argument turns on the asserted risks of submitting legislation of this sort in an election year. If it were decided to postpone, according to the proposal, this would not be done in any casual or laconic way; the President would make a major statement emphasizing the need for closer economic ties with the EEC, observing that this would require a major statutory overhaul, and noting that the time was not yet ripe for deciding exactly what changes would be needed.

Despite the persuasiveness of this view, I do not recommend such delay. My reasons are these:

  • First, any delay will be interpreted as a prelude to retreat. However artfully the President’s statement may be, the public impression will be one of vacillation and uncertainty. Groups in support of liberal policies in the foreign economic field will lose heart and momentum; the protectionists will gain in strength and will use the added year to gain even further.
  • Second, I see no clear reason to suppose that a year’s delay will make the American public more willing to take a bolder approach toward ties to the EEC. True, there may be more heightened interest and education about the Community a year hence than today. But if the United States were not already in motion toward closer economic ties, the interest could easily take a dangerous isolationist and nationalist form. This is a case in which our tone toward the EEC has to be set clear and early, not only by a speech but by action on the part of US leaderships.

My third point has to do with the plausibility of the view that we will be in a better position to gauge our negotiating needs a year hence than we are at the present time. This position presupposes that we cannot hold [Page 493]serious negotiations with the EEC until about June 1963. I question the realism of that view. Already we are being dragged into one aspect or another of the EEC negotiations, with or without powers of negotiation. We are already deep in negotiations over the treatment of tropical product imports by the EEC, and, if we were not already in those negotiations, mounting pressure from Latin America would probably push us in very soon. We are already being drawn into discussions of the EEC treatment of temperate agricultural items such as wheat and feed grains; once again, we would be forced into these discussions by the mounting fear of some exclusionary deal if we did not move into them of our own accord. As I read the record, therefore, the notion that we can hold aloof from the EEC negotiations for another 21 months seems grossly unrealistic.

As for the election-year versus election-off year timing issue, there is little to be said on this point. All years are bad years for trade legislation. Election years may be worse than off years. On the other hand, the 88th Congress may be poorer in composition than the 87th from the viewpoint of trade legislation. This is an issue on which honest judgments will differ but no judgment can claim much in the way of superiority as a basis of action. The need to maintain the momentum and support of public groups on the side of a liberal trade policy seems more important than the need to avoid an election year.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Petersen Papers, Trade Legislation, 1/13/61-11/5/61. No classification marking. Transmitted to Ball under cover of an October 18 memorandum from Petersen.