Washington, 18 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton leaves Washington today to pick up the remainder of an Asian trip he cancelled on the week-end due to the crisis in Iraq.
Clinton will be focusing on America's economic, political and security relations as he visits two of the U.S.'s largest and most important allies -- Japan and South Korea. One key question, however, will have special interest to Russia -- how the U.S. intends to deal with a flood of increasingly cheaper goods from many countries, especially in Asia, and from Russia.
The U.S. International Trade Commission and the U.S. Commerce Department have begun acting on anti-dumping cases over steel produced in Russia, Japan, Korea and Brazil. Dumping is the selling of goods at prices below what it costs to produce them in the originating country.
The American steel industry has charged that with the financial crises in Asia and Russia, steel producers there are able to send their products into the U.S. at rates far below what would be fair prices in America.
The Chairman of the President's National Economic Council, Gene Sperling, told reporters at the White House Tuesday that Clinton will raise the issue as one of sticking to a fair trading system.
Sperling says that in Korea and Japan, the President will stress the importance of a rule-based fair trading system and of maintaining confidence in open global markets.
Sperling said there is no question that the surge of steel imports into the U.S. is having a negative impact on the American industry and its workers.
Sperling says it's important to make clear to any country to keep its own house in order. And with an increase in hot-rolled steel imports of 550 percent, the U.S. finds this very significant because it is causing real pain in some parts of the U.S.
Russian negotiators were in Washington last week to talk about U.S. proposals that Russia cut its exports of hot-rolled coil steel to the U.S. to 60 percent of last year's volume. American officials refuse to even acknowledge the negotiations, but the American newspaper the Journal of Commerce reporting out of Moscow quotes industry sources as saying Russian officials are fighting to keep exports at about the 1997 level. Their concern is their own steel industry which desperately needs the business.
In Asia, President Clinton will be focusing on other economic questions, especially Japan's efforts at getting its economy growing again. Japan provides 70 percent of the economic power of the region.
U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who will accompany Clinton, says Japan's growth is "crucial to the global economy and in particular to the Asian economy."
Tokyo has just announced a major economic stimulus package worth $200 billion, which includes some backing from the international community, but full specifics have not yet been released. Clinton will be reviewing where Japan goes next during his visit there Thursday and Friday.
Summers says large problems remain for Japan, especially since its imports from the eight other major Asian economies has actually fallen in the past year by more than 13 percent while U.S. imports from those countries have risen.
Political and security questions will also be on the agenda in both Japan and Korea for Clinton. Deputy White House National Security advisor James Steinberg says discussions about the situation in North Korea and that country's nuclear and missile programs will be "prominent" on the agenda in both Korea and Japan. Clinton will be in Korea next the week-end.
The president was originally to have flown to Malaysia last week-end to participate in the Asian Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) summit, but sent Vice President Al Gore in his place when the Iraqi crisis flared.
Interestingly, Gore, who will be returning to the U.S. from the conference tonight, will almost cross paths in the air with Clinton. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart acknowledged that if their flights are on-time, the President and Vice President will both be outside of U.S. airspace for a few minutes. Traditionally, the President and the Vice President are never both outside of the U.S. at the same time.
One small aspect of the trip is significant, but not for economic or security reasons. When Clinton arrives in Japan, he will have a private visit with the Emperor and Empress in their private residence. They almost never receive foreign visitors or anyone else in their private quarters. Lockhart says it's a "very rare honor that they have offered to the president."