In a rare display of unanimity, bankers have backed the Clinton administration's decision to reject a new international trade agreement dealing with financial services.
"There has been a consistent position (on the trade talks), and we have urged Treasury to hang tough," said John R. Price, managing director for government affairs at Chemical Banking Corp.
The administration position "has the support of Congress and the financial services industry across the board," added Thomas L. Farmer, general counsel for the Washington-based Bankers Association for Foreign Trade. "The entire spectrum has the same view, and what we're saying is unless we get some market openings, we want to keep our options open."
The United States recently rejected the financial services portion of a broader revised international agreement on trade known as the World Trade Organization.
The U.S. decision came after nine years of talks that aimed to remove remaining restrictions and barriers to global trade. The talks involved 130 countries.
In a last ditch effort, negotiators handling the multilateral talks agreed to extend them to the end of this month. But U.S. bankers said they see little reason to believe that countries with closed financial markets will make any significant concessions.
"Access to the emerging markets has been very much restricted and it's a one-sided situation," Mr. Farmer said. "They keep theirs closed, but the U.S. market is open to them."
Bankers and officials named South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and Brazil as being among the countries with rapidly growing economies which declined to remove restrictions limiting foreign banks' access to their markets.
American trade negotiators have been seeking increased powers for mainly superregional banks, to enter those markets without the restrictions that are currently in place.
"Superregionals are going international and are ready to service their upper middle-market corporate customers in a big way," Mr. Farmer said. "They are going to be major players in those markets five to eight years down the road and it's very much in the interest of U.S. and world trade that these markets begin to open up."
The American rejection was accompanied by a warning declaring that the United States reserves the right to reject applications from foreign banks seeking to open or expand operations here if their home countries bar U.S. financial institutions from doing business.
However, the decision is unlikely to have any impact on foreign banks already doing business here.
The U.S. delegation to the talks said it has "no intention of imposing new restrictions on financial services companies already in the United States."
Bankers also pointed out that around 90% of world trade in financial services is conducted among the United States, Europe, and Japan - countries with open financial markets. The United States, they said, remains prepared to negotiate bilateral agreements on market access with other countries, including a phased access spread over several years similar to the one included in the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"What we're basically saying is our aim is to open markets, not to close them," Mr. Price said.