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Ron Brown - America's 'Commercial Diplomat'

Prague, April, 4 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown was an artful practioner of "commercial diplomacy" - putting the weight of the federal government behind American businesses seeking overseas contracts.

Yet, his tragic mission to the Balkans was more than trying to help U.S. corporations get their share of the pie. It was to assess the financial needs of the war-torn region and eventually develop a long-range business plan. Just like drawing up a business plan for a startup company. Its purpose was to pump enough money into the troubled region so neighbors would care more about holding down jobs than fighting each other.

It was and remains to be a tricky task.

It is hard to imagine that the General Motors and Sonys of the world would invest in Bosnia the large sums of money needed to manufacture automobiles and television sets. Capital, after all, goes where the rewards are the greatest and the risks the least.

So, it is up to governments and government-sponsored financial institutions to make investments attractive - whether it is in the Balkans, Somalia or Haiti. This can be done a number of ways such as through tax breaks, loan guarantees, low-interest loans and grants. And then the contracts would start rolling in.

Brown, who was killed in a plane crash near Dubrovnik, Croatia, yesterday, recently estimated that there are 5,000 million dollars worth of reconstruction projects needed to be undertaken in Bosnia during the next three to four years.

He said, "Just as we took the lead in the peace process, we need to show the way in rebuilding from the ruins of the war." Brown added, pointedly, "And I want American companies to get their share of those contracts."

It seems the American companies were ready - if not to invest at this stage to at least look and listen. There were a number of top U.S. executives traveling on Brown's airplane.

Brown was proud of his role in trying to bring peace to troubled areas.

Just before undertaking his mission, Brown - a confidant of the president of the United States - said he was trying to use commercial diplomacy "to move towards long-term peace and stability" in the Balkans.

It will be left to someone else now to complete this task.