Gaps in a new international trade agreement will hinder U.S. banks' ability to do business overseas efficiently, bankers said Tuesday.
Speaking at a conference here, bankers praised the Dec. 13 pact that facilitates U.S. bank entry to foreign markets, but they said it must be modified to ease lending limits and restrictions on transferring information across national borders.
"There is some real poetry, some real excitement in this agreement that I hope people don't overlook," said Peter Russell, senior vice president of international government relations for Chase Manhattan Corp. Robert D. Kramer, vice president and public policy manager at BankAmerica Corp., said, "There were several things we didn't receive that we would have liked to see in this agreement."
The sweeping pact, which was signed by 102 members of the World Trade Organization last month, opened the door for U.S. institutions to establish banking, securities, and insurance businesses in more than 70 countries that had been off-limits to foreign firms.
But the international body set up to regulate world trade failed to solve some key problems, bankers said. Topping the list, Mr. Kramer said, was that most countries still base lending limits on the amount of capital a U.S. banking company holds only in its foreign branch, rather than on the global capital level of the institution. This effectively reduces the size of loans that multinational banks can make abroad, he said.
"Almost no progress at all was made on this problem," Mr. Kramer said. "This will have a major impact on our ability to leverage our resources on a global basis." Only the United States and several European countries base lending limits on overall capital, Mr. Kramer said.
In addition, several countries still restrict banks' ability to transmit data from their headquarters to foreign branches. For example, some countries require foreign banks to set up separate data processing centers within its borders, Mr. Kramer said.
Timothy F. Geithner, assistant Treasury secretary for international affairs, said the pact failed to loosen several countries' restrictions on access to financial market information services.
"A critical priority is making sure that information providers ... critical to finance have the capacity to offer those services around the world," said Mr. Geithner, who helped negotiate the World Trade Organization pact.
The mutual fund industry was not completely satisfied with the agreement either, said Mary Podesta, associate counsel for the Investment Company Institute.
For example, Korea refused to grant U.S. mutual funds 100% ownership of subsidiaries there, Ms. Podesta said.World Trade Organization discussions have been taking place since September in Geneva. A round of talks broke off in 1995 after several developing countries declined to give banks from the United States and other industrialized countries greater access to markets.