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American Trade and Power in the 1960s.

Much of the writing about American foreign policy in the 1960s has focused on crisis situations: the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile crisis, and Vietnam. Thomas Zeiler has directed his attention to the less dramatic but equally important issue of foreign trade policy. The specific issues covered in this book are the origins and implementation of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act and the series of international discussions involving the Kennedy Round of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) from 1963 to 1967. These topics merit serious consideration because it was at this time that the United States began to decline economically in relation to Japan and western Europe, thus bringing into question its role as the unchallenged economic leader of the western bloc. The title is a bit misleading in that the book really focuses on the Kennedy administration and much less on the period when Lyndon Johnson occupied the White House.

This book provides a useful corrective to earlier studies of the Kennedy administration that emphasized the president's inattention to the details of complicated policies and his inclination to follow narrowly defined American economic interests. In the chapters dealing with the Trade Expansion Act, the author convincingly demonstrates that Kennedy managed to master the complexities of tariff rates, the comparative advantages of major American industries, the politics of Congressional protectionism, and the economic interests of the western allies. More importantly, Zeiler shows the extent to which President Kennedy was committed to the Wilsonian vision of a liberalized international economic order with the GATT as the mechanism to assure the orderly removal of tariff barriers. If countries resisted, the president preferred not to arbitrarily raise tariffs at home but encourage other countries to make access to their markets easier through the use of diplomatic persuasion.

At the theoretical level Wilsonian internationalism determined President Kennedy's foreign trade policy but he also was concerned about the practical and more immediate problem of reversing the American economic decline of the early 1960s. Towards this end, the president sought greater access for American agricultural and manufactured commodities not simply the protection of its own producers. But cold war imperatives - the need to strengthen the western alliance economically by way of mutually profitable policies - outweighed all other factors in Kennedy's approach to the Trade Expansion Act and the Kennedy Round of the GATT On several occasions during the first two decades of the cold war the United States sacrificed its own economic interests in order to preserve strategic ties with Japan and Western Europe against the Soviet Union. This interpretation, which provides the framework for Zeiler's analysis, is associated with the Statist school of American diplomatic history and stands in contrast to the neo-corporatist and left-revisionist which view policy as only reflecting the narrow needs of American capitalism.

Not everyone shared the view that Kennedy's trade policy was informed by a "Grand Design for America" (p. 154). The administration met considerable resistance at home to the passage of the Trade Expansion Act and the author credits Kennedy with deftly handling the politics to assure the passage of the bill. The president was less successful in his efforts to get international co-operation during the so called Kennedy Round of GATT negotiations. Lesser developed countries protested that the multilateral negotiations favoured the industrialized countries and did not go far enough in removing tariffs to allow their exports to enter American markets. The French, at the time under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle, were critical of American economic expansion in Europe and used their dominant position in the Common Market to undermine the tariff reductions of the Kennedy Round. To provide a contrast to the difficulties with de Gaulle the author could have spent more time on Canadian-American economic relations which, despite the personal rift between Diefenbaker and Kennedy, were quite successful.

The author has effectively mined the records at the Kennedy and Johnson libraries. Although he suggests that access to foreign countries was difficult he would have been well served to examine the records of the Canadian departments of External Affairs and Finance at the National Archives in Ottawa. As the United States' largest trading partner and recipient of investment, Canada is deserving of greater attention than it received in this study. His thesis about the primacy of national security considerations in particular could have been strengthened by reference to the impact of the 1958 Defense Production Sharing Agreement on trade between the two countries.

Writing from the perspective of the 1990-91 recession in the United States, Mr. Zeiler may have been too pessimistic in his assessment of the decline of the United States in relation to East Asia and the European Common Market countries. Most economists expect a growth of 3 to 4 per cent in 1993 while the economic growth rates of Germany, Britain, and France are not expected to exceed 1 per cent and that of Japan will not fare much better. America's trade position will undoubtedly improve dramatically in the next few years in light of the Labor Department announcement of a 4.8 per cent gain in productivity, the highest in twenty years. In key growth industries such as computers and aerospace the United States maintains a commanding lead. Indeed the post cold war environment may usher in a new period of American ascendancy in which the United States, less tied to defence spending, can concentrate on maximizing productivity at home. Moreover, as Mickey Kantor, the new trade representative, recently pointed out: "the days when we could subordinate our economic interests to foreign policy or defence concerns are long past." (The Economist, 6 February 1993, p. 16). These quibbles aside, Zeiler has produced a first rate study of the trade policy of the Kennedy years and one looks forward to a sequel.
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Author:Aronsen, Lawrence
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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