THE Department of Commerce deals daily with issues of United States competitiveness and penetration of foreign markets. In an interview, Secretary of Commerce Robert Mosbacher spoke on some of the issues facing the US as the 12-nation European Community (EC) moves toward a single market at the end of 1992, and about opportunities opening up in rapidly changing Eastern Europe: EC protectionism
The Europeans tell us that the protectionism is not aimed at us. You know, that's like you telling someone who happened to be in the bank that you're robbing that you didn't mean to shoot him. Whether you meant to shoot that person or not, he's just as dead.
The EC is a high item on the list of priorities. We deal with EC issues every day. They are collectively our biggest trading partner. We need to improve our free market access. Overall, we have by far the most open market in the world. But that doesn't mean we're perfect.
I see the EC as a potentially great market for US exporters. But there are a few disquieting signs. I guess the most public is the broadcast directive. The Europeans usually, and prominently, use their concern for their culture as the reason for limiting to 50 percent imports pertaining to [radio and television] broadcast. Some Europeans are getting their industry going here and developing it further in Europe by protecting it. We object to that.
Establishment of standards for US exports to the EC
Standardization is extremely important. When we started working on this we found that there is a lot of trepidation about what the Europeans might do to American companies in terms of setting standards. They might prejudice US companies trying to export to Europe. It can be anything, from the angle of a tack or a screw to fire requirements on buildings. What we really want is at least the opportunity to come and sit down in these standard setting groups and give testimony or reasoning why they shouldn't set the standards too narrow.
They should set standards on an international standard according to the International Standard Organization or at least those which would be on a national basis so that US companies and other foreign companies can compete.
The Europeans have agreed to that and to give us prior notice about standard setting sessions. That's worked out very well. I must say they've stuck to what they said they'd do. We're not quite as far along with the testing and certification as we are with establishing a clear delineation of when standards change. For goods consumed in the US, we give people national treatment. We're prejudicing a German oil company the same as we prejudice an American one. They're both subject to the same standards.
We need to work on European government purchasing. Each country, even municipalities in come cases, will do their own purchasing, but they should have the same standards for someone inside the European Community as for someone outside. The same standard should exist for the United States, for France, for Germany.
US firms in Europe
There are so many levels of companies. There are those that don't export to Europe, rather they go over there and build factories for production. And, of course, they're not concerned with import restriction because to some degree they're like an EC company. So the people who are really concerned are those who build and produce here and export to Europe. Local content requirements pose problems. The result of restrictions is that there is a rush among US firms to build and operate plants in Europe. And that's not bad. But it should be voluntary; it should not be under duress.
The Europeans welcome companies that build and create jobs and capital over there. US subsidiaries enjoy the same rights as European companies, too.
We're trying to help the company that is not big enough, or does not have the desire to put a plant over in Europe. We're trying to help that company to export from the US.
Toward this end, we're trying to make sure that they don't get excluded, either by standards, place of origin and local content requirements, or by procurement policies that stipulate purchases must be for things that are made exclusively in the Community.