Competitiveness. It's the buzzword of the year, the reason the dollar has plunged, the aim of dozens of trade bills in Congress. But what does American business think it needs to become more competitive? Monitor economics correspondent Ron Scherer asked five key corporate leaders - in industries ranging from steel and textiles to finance and agriculture - to look at the issue. Here's what they think.

John Tyson Chairman and chief executive officer of Compression Labs of San Jose, Calif. AMERICAN industry is the home of the multinational corporation, and since the end of World War II, we have exported jobs and dollars to undeveloped countries. As countries have matured, they have imposed trade restrictions and embargos.

Unlike commodity markets, American technology companies export more than mere products. We have always led the way in sharing our knowledge and technological development. But we now feel hurt when cheaper offshore labor and unfair trade practices precipitate tougher market conditions.

Restricting our markets to domestic companies as a measure of forcing governments to open up their own markets to US products won't work. Such proposals are counterproductive. In the long run, US interests will be left out of the overseas picture and foreign customers will buy inferior technology.

Formal trade barriers are only one way American technology companies have been shut out of foreign markets. Premature adoption of international standards before a market has evolved is another means foreign interests use to close out US companies. Ill-defined technology standards often stifle innovations, limiting users - both in the US and abroad - to obsolete technology.

In the past, US representatives to international standards bodies have often acquiesced to American business interests and agreed to foreign standards to appease foreign governments. Only through the concerted efforts of multinational corporations with European and Asian presence has superior US technology prevailed in entering markets with a local sponsor.

To prevent the erosion of US technological leadership, American companies must seek reciprocal business relationships with foreign manufacturers. Compression Labs' association with Sony has enabled us to begin to penetrate Japan's markets and become the world's leading supplier of videoconference technology.

Through intensive research-and-development partnerships, US companies can enjoy productive alliances that yield not only increased cooperation but understanding and trust in an American economic policy that befriends, instead of betrays, our foreign customers.

It is this type of approach that we must accept and the administration must promote. The era of a global economy is upon us, and it is more evident that cooperation, not confrontation, will make that economy better for all.

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