The growing clamor for trade barriers to protect United States industries is furrowing the brows of many of the nation's Western governors. Many of the targets for trade barriers are Pacific-Rim countries -- such as Japan, South Korea, and Thailand -- that buy forest products, wheat, and fish from Western states. Governors are concerned that imposing quotas on goods from these countries would result in foreign barriers being erected against US commodities.
The root of the problem is the US trade deficit, trade attorney Richard Rivers said this week at a meeting of the Western Governors' Association. The deficit is expected to hit an all-time high this year of between $140 billion and $150 billion.
But Mr. Rivers, a former counsel with the White House Office of the Special Trade Representative during the Carter administration, says bills filed in Congress to protect US industries will not solve the problem. And he says the Reagan administration must do more to steer Congress away from protectionism.
``Congress and the executive branch have been making economic decisions without fully recognizing they have such international ramifications,'' Rivers said. Short-term solutions, such as temporary surcharges on foreign products, are not going to work, he adds.
Seattle attorney Stanley Barer agreed, saying imposing trade barriers in an attempt to reduce the US trade deficit would hurt Western states.
For example, if Congress bows to demands from Southern interests to enact trade restrictions on textile products, foreign nations could retaliate by restricting the amount of Western products they import, Mr. Barer said.
During the three-day conference here, which ended Wednesday, the governors heard a number of reasons for the US trade difficulties. Speakers blamed:
America's large federal deficits, high interest rates, and the high value of the dollar relative to the Japanese yen.
Cultural misunderstandings between the US and Asia, and the failures of the American education system to provide adequate and appropriate foreign-language training.
Asian economic practices, which focus on boosting products for export. If Asian countries spent more at home -- building houses and paving roads, for instance -- they would import more goods from the US to make these improvements.
Hawaii Gov. George R. Ariyoshi (D), outgoing chairman of the 19-member association of Western and Pacific-Rim territorial governors, said he wanted to teach his colleagues about economic opportunities in Asia.
``We don't serve in a vacuum,'' said Governor Ariyoshi, who in 1974 was the first American of Japanese ancestry to be elected governor. ``Things happen every day all around us that involve countries of Asia and the Pacific.''
During the discussions, Gov. Victor G. Atiyeh (D) of Oregon defended Japan, which is a major target of protectionist legislation in Congress.
``My personal view is that we are friends with Japan,'' he said. ``They are our friends. They are important trading partners with us. Japan is Oregon's No. 1 international trading partner, accounting for more than one-half of all our foreign commerce.''
Governor Atiyeh said the blame for US trade problems may rest with the American people, who could be better Asian traders if they understood their Pacific-Rim neighbors.
``We believe they should accept our [America's] products on our terms,'' Atiyeh said. ``We're not ready to compete.''
Gov. Ted Schwinden (D) of Montana said Americans are not culturally ready to join the international marketplace. ``The United States has never historically had to look at the rest of the world as a marketplace.''
Victor Li, president of the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii, said: ``Few people speak Asian languages or have studied Asian society and culture. There are, for example, more persons studying Japanese in Australia, a country of only 15 million, than in the United States. That is nothing less than scandalous.''
Robert Kiste, director of the University of Hawaii's Pacific Islands program, said ``a more realistic view'' of the Pacific Rim is needed. The area is not just ``palm trees and hula girls,'' but extends from Japan, Korea, China in the north, to Australia and New Zealand in the south, he said.
Eleven of the 19 member-states were represented at the conference. In part of the conference, the governors were given a closed-door classified military briefing on the Pacific region.