Sunday, November 19, 2000

Policies help raise standards

World Trade: A global debate

Robert L. Mallett
Robert L. Mallett
        Robert L. Mallett is deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. As chief operating officer, he oversees operations for the department's nine agencies, 40,000 employees and $5 billion budget. One major assignment is promoting full market access for U.S. companies around the globe, and especially for small, medium and women-owned businesses. At the Trans Atlantic Business Dialog's conference in Cincinnati, he was one of a panel of speakers on globalization. The Enquirer interviewed him Thursday.

        Q: How would you respond to opponents of TABD who say global trade policies overrule U.S. protections for consumers, workers and the environment?

Mallett: It's just not true. Where is the proof that TABD or the World Trade Organization (WTO) has overruled any of our environmental laws? I don't think it's an arguable premise that the U.S. economy and U.S. workers haven't benefited immeasurably from global trade. One quarter of growth in our economy is due to trade. I have seen no diminution in our environmental laws: Our air is cleaner, our rivers and forests are cleaner.

        Q: Should Americans be concerned that the TABD and WTO advocate corporate self-inspection and self-regulation?

        Mallett: We shouldn't be concerned. It's part of the American Way. We couldn't function as a society without self-certification. We can't step on a airplane or a railway without a company certifying the food is safe. It's the same thing with drugs. There's this tendency to make a bogeyman out of everything. Show me where there is any diminution in the environment, consumer health or worker safety.

        Q: TABD's Web site ( makes no secret that the group thinks the “new obstacles to trade are now domestic regulations.”

Mallett: I haven't seen the TABD Web site and don't know what that means. But the TABD has no regulatory power. It's a dialog. The freer flow of goods, people and money both ways across the Atlantic is a positive that keeps Americans employed here at home and abroad. Just look in this area: Cincinnati has eight to 10 Fortune 500 companies. People employed here are benefitting from exports. More Americans are employed than ever before. This is the longest economic expansion in our history. We have strong environmental laws. I don't get the objections.

        Q: Does the elimination of trade barriers hurt smaller nations?

        Mallett: I am an unrepentant and unreconstructed free-trader. And I say that as the son of a union worker in the steel mills of Texas. We can't live in this world and remain competitive by becoming isolated. The nature of our own economy is too global for that ever to happen again. It's clear the economic benefits have been uneven globally, but I don't think it's been brutal. We have to address that issue, especially where there are weak governments or weak safety nets. The multinational corporations have to take up that slack. U.S. companies are raising environmental standards, labor standards, health standards. They introduce health insurance programs, pensions. But U.S. corporations do not become the government. They know how to behave.

        Q: Is there danger of WTO tribunals supplanting U.S. courts?

        Mallett: It's not going to happen, either with federal or state courts. We will defend the sanctity and sovereignty of U.S. laws. Sometimes we will lose and have to adjust, but we are raising international standards.

        Q: Does the TABD need to open more of its U.S.-EU dialoging to the public?

Mallett: Criticism of the TABD for its lack of transparency is on the mark. More could be done with public in an observer status. They need to take away the cloak of secrecy at their conferences. But you couldn't have international trade dialog if all members of the public always had something to say all the time. The public does have the opportunity to participate when nations pass domestic legislation, and there are opportunities for dialog with the ILO and United Nations.

        Q: Are U.S. consumers at greater risk because of mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) and the global regulatory principle “tested once and approved everywhere”?

Mallett: No, the principle is “approved once, accepted everywhere.” If labs meet U.S. standards and we so certify them, global acceptance of products will increase trade. U.S. health and safety standards will not be compromised. We are not giving full credit to the positives that global trade has wrought. More than 90 percent of the companies in transatlantic trade are small or medium-sized companies. That's got to be a positive.

        Q: Do you expect in the next few years continued TABD successes at lowering trade barriers like those of the last five years?

Mallett: I think TABD will continue strong under either a Bush or a Gore administration. It will continue to acquit itself well.


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