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68. Briefing Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Lake) and the Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations (Bennet) to Secretary of State Vance 1

Congressional Staffers View Trade Liberalization

In the fourth of a series of S/P hosted meetings with Congressional staffers, we met informally on October 12 with key Senate and House staffers concerned with international trade issues.2 The discussion focused on the strength of protectionist sentiment in the Congress, foreign policy related issues, the impact of current trade issues such as steel on Congressional views and on prospects for a successful conclusion of the Multilateral Trade Negotiations (MTNs), and US adjustment to changing trade patterns.

The staffers almost without exception, painted a dark picture for congressional acceptance of trade liberalizing measures so long as pressures from constituents for special protective action remain very strong. They agreed that the problems of domestic industries and unemployment are not likely to improve significantly in the foreseeable future; therefore, stopgap action such as anti-dumping actions and orderly marketing agreements will have to be pursued to avoid even worse restrictive trade legislation. They particularly emphasized the congressional perception that the Administration was not doing all it could to expeditiously use existing authority in the Trade Act to offset unfair trade practices, such as dumping. The group agreed that unless we could produce a trade package providing clear benefits to US industry, Congress would reject the agreements our negotiators concluded.

They expressed Congressional resistance to granting extensive concessions to the upper tier developing countries in the light of their emerging ability to compete with selected US industries. They urged that there be greater coordination among various US policies to ensure consistency; e.g., that we consider the need for LDCs to expand their exports in order to earn foreign exchange to manage their debts to our banks at the same time that we make decisions concerning possible restrictions on LDC products entering our markets.

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As for longer range prospects, the group shared mild enthusiasm for the development of a national industrial policy which could address the need for structural change in specific sectors, anticipate new trade patterns, strengthen US competitiveness in selected industries, and assist workers displaced because of a rapid increase in imports. Nevertheless, there was considerable skepticism that this could in fact be accomplished.

In sum, the mood of these key staff people towards our ability to hold the line against protectionism was very pessimistic.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Executive Secretariat, Official Working Papers of S/P Director Anthony Lake, 1977–January 1981, Lot 82D298, Box 3, S/P-Lake Papers—10/16–31/77. No classification marking. Drafted by Harriet Hentges (S/P).
  2. No memorandum of conversation of this meeting was found.