US Enlists Culture To Expand Its Exports

`Amerika Hauser' will help firms access Europe's market

THE United States intends to add a little commerce to its cultural activities in Germany.

In an effort to retool its foreign policy for the next century, the US is launching a diplomatic initiative here that it hopes will lead to increased exports to Western industrialized nations.

The new policies are aimed at coordinating activity among various American government agencies, allowing diplomatic and cultural facilities in Germany to work more effectively in helping American companies find new markets, as well as attract foreign investment.

As a result, officials here are changing the way they utilize US cultural centers, known throughout Germany as Amerika Haus. And they are reorienting US consulates. Both eventually will be able to handle business inquiries, as well as fulfill their traditional functions, officials say.

``President Clinton has placed economic and commercial issues at the heart of US foreign policy,'' US Ambassador to Germany Richard Holbrooke said Wednesday, announcing the reopening of the Dusseldorf consulate.

The president ``has dedicated his administration to lowering barriers to trade and opening markets to US business. He has developed a national export strategy. As part of this national export strategy, we selected Germany to be a showcase,'' Ambassador Holbrooke continued.

At the announcement ceremony, Johannes Rau - the Social Democrat candidate for the German presidency, and current prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state, of which Dusseldorf is the capital - welcomed the American action.

IF the initiative is successful in Germany, then officials will consider introducing similar changes in other industrialized Western nations. But Holbrooke says there is no specific timetable for the project's expansion, adding that US officials would only start evaluating the impact of ``Showcase Germany'' in a year's time.

The reopening of the consulate in Dusseldorf, located in Germany's industrial heartland along the Rhine River, is a pillar of the new US strategy. The city is the center of Japanese business activity in Europe.

Calling the decision six years ago to close the consulate ``a mistake,'' Holbrooke said last month: ``There are at least 30,000 Japanese in Dusseldorf. We are going to take the Japanese on.''

In Dusseldorf, a foreign commercial officer will be given the post of consul general - the first time a Commerce Department representative has been put in charge of a US diplomatic mission. Also, a senior officer at the mission will be a diplomat fluent in both German and Japanese. And all consular officers will have commercial training.

Economic competition promises to be fierce. US companies are from the start at a disadvantage in Western Europe due to free-trade rules taking effect in the European Union.

To make the most of US opportunities, the departments of Commerce and State, along with the US Information Agency, will be joining forces, US officials say. ``Merging some of our commercial functions and cultural activities strengthens both,'' Holbrooke said.

Another key component of the US initiative involves the establishment of Business Information Centers at Amerika Haus facilities. The first such center was unveiled Jan. 18 at the Amerika Haus in Frankfurt.

In the past, US commercial offices were often relatively inaccessible, located either in US embassies or consulates, the ambassador explained. Placing business centers in Amerika Haus will greatly increase accessibility. Over time, additional business centers will open at Amerika Haus facilities in other cities, including Berlin and Munich.

In addition, diplomats here intend to work closely with European-based commercial representatives from US states. On Tuesday, Holbrooke - joined by the envoys to France and Austria, Pamela Harriman and Swanee Hunt - hosted a seminar in Bonn for the members of the Council of American States in Europe.

Both US diplomats and state commercial agents say the passivity of American companies is one of the biggest hurdles in expanding exports. Many small and medium-sized companies are only starting to realize the business potential in the European market.

``It'll take us a little time to measure the pay-off,'' Holbrooke said of the initiative. ``But we are convinced that these are relatively easy decisions, just to make the government more efficient, more responsive, and above all more responsive to the middle-sized American companies.''

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