Williamsburg summit: basic accord on world economy
The Williamsburg summit of the West's most powerful leaders slips into history as a blend of broad agreement on principles, discord on particulars, and uncertainty about the future.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
This mixed result was the most that could be expected from two presidents, four prime ministers, and a chancellor who came with widely differing perspectives to this elegantly restored colonial capital of Virginia.
Binding them together was deep concern over the millions of their peoples who cannot find jobs, including a great many young people just out of school.
Only in Japan, with an official unemployment rate under 3 percent, is the problem less acute. For the other six participants at Williamsburg - the United States, Canada, Britain, France, West Germany, and Italy - the jobless rate exceeds or hovers at 10 percent.
This produced agreement on an overall goal of economic growth among the seven. This may sound unexceptionable, but in fact it represents a departure from the emphasis at recent summits on controlling inflation.
Now the issue is jobs, though the leaders stressed the need to guard against a resurgence of inflation as a result of economic growth.
In France and Italy inflation remains a problem and recovery has scarcely begun. For the rest, said US Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan, there is a ''generally upbeat report'' on economic recovery, led by the United States.
Clearly troubling to allied leaders are the enormous debt problems of developing countries, carrying with it the possibility that default by one or more major debtors could shake the world banking system. This led the seven participants to stress the critical importance of expanding world trade and resisting protectionist pressures in industrialized lands.
Debtor nations, it was agreed, must be allowed to export their products to rich industrialized countries or their debt problems will grow worse, threatening calamity for all.
Yet a flood of goods made by cheaper labor in the third world is exactly what many industries in the US and Europe, both management and workers, demand to be protected from.
As expected, President Reagan's economic policies came in for criticism, centering on huge US budget deficits and high interest rates.
Eyebrows may have gone up around the table when US officials claimed, according to Mr. Regan, that the US finds ''very little linkage between deficits and interest rates.''
This conclusion, he said, was based on a US analysis of 20 years of economic experience in the seven summit lands.
Critics of Reagan's budget policies, including allied leaders at Williamsburg , contend that deficits of the magnitude forseen in the US carry the seeds of higher interest rates and perhaps future inflation.
''We explained the situation between the administration and Congress (i.e., a budget deadlock),'' said Secretary Regan, ''and the changes that could occur if the US recovery pattern changes, either up or down.''
At least two heads of government, including British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, expressed concern about the extension of US law to cover American companies incorporated in foreign countries. Reagan seeks from Congress broader authority to impose sanctions on US firms, whatever their country of incorporation, that violate presidential bans on technology sales to the Soviet Union.
On neither score - budget policy and revision of the Export Administration Act - did Reagan beat a retreat beyond explaining the rationale for his policies.
There seems, at this point, little likelihood that disputes will break out over what happened at Williamsburg. After last year's Versailles summit, by contrast, the atmosphere was roiled by Franco-American arguments over East-West trade.
The annual economic summits, of which Williamsburg was the ninth, unfolded against a backdrop of extraordinary economic turbulence in the world, sparked by a tenfold increase in the price of oil, soaring inflation, and most recently the deepest recession since World War II.
Inflation and the energy crisis more or less have receded. The great need now for governments of major industrial powers is to solve problems springing from those earlier crises - namely, putting people back to work and finding ways to keep debtor nations from pulling down the whole house of cards, rich and poor alike.