Scrooge and world trade

AT this time of year when individuals in Western industrial nations consider gifts for families and friends, it is well to observe just how varied -- and international -- stocks in stores are. This is not at all to suggest the holiday season is about commerce. Still, the very diversity of goods and services available to so many people in so many lands represents the shared energies and contribution of millions of individuals. It is essential that such creativity of expression and variety of products continue to be shared.

Unfortunately, pressures are on the rise for curbs on world commerce.

Protectionism would be the Scrooge in all this.

The latest US trade figures -- with the merchandise trade deficit hitting a seasonally adjusted and record $33 billion in the third quarter of 1985 -- can be expected to provide added excuse for congressional calls for import restrictions in the United States. And such calls are expected to grow more intense during next year's midterm elections.

The Reagan administration must continue to resist demands for protectionism. Its overall strategy is threefold: Drive down the value of the dollar; identify and penalize individual nations that restrict American exports; enact a comprehensive trade program to boost US exports. This approach is right on target.

The big test for Washington, however, is just around the corner -- in 1986. There is evidence that the consumer spending spree of recent months is abating, though purchases should be strong through the holiday season. But many Americans find themselves financially stretched. Savings are down.

Reduced import demand in the US cannot help affecting nations abroad. Europe needs exports to help offset its high unemployment rates. Some European political leaders, moreover, are already talking about a new trade war with the US regarding agriculture, where both sides of the Atlantic are scrambling to hold their market shares abroad for competitive farm products. Meanwhile, Asia's high growth rates of recent years have slackened off.

The administration has won agreement for a new round of multinational trade talks next year, under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The talks warrant the highest priority. The US must be willing to expand the discussion -- to consider not just trade, but the other factors that involve trade: world debt, exchange rates, national economic policies.

Expanding global trade remains the larger trellis on which is based the goodwill and intercommunication of nations in this decade of the 1980s.

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