WASHINGTON, -- There was a tone of urgency mixed with pride of authorship when White House officials unveiled President Clinton's latest initiatives to help U.S. business increase sales of goods and services overseas.

For while the measures underscored the growing importance in the economy of high-tech exports, the administration recognized it will be hard to see quick results in a soft world economy hampered by an impasse in international trade negotiations.

|A Big, Big Deal'

The centerpiece of the new export promotion policies was an announcement lifting licensing requirements on a variety of personal computers and low-level workstations. U.S. officials estimated that the action removed restraints on $24 billion worth of computer products that make up 70% of the business.

Efforts are also under way to lift export restraints on bigger and more sophisticated computers - as well as telecommunications products, another premier U.S. industry.

All of this fits with the President's strategy of creating high-wage jobs in a global economy free of Cold War worries. "This is a big, big deal. It may seem tedious and it may seem arcane, but it's very, very important," a senior administration official said.

One-stop Shops to Open Jan. 1

Commerce officials estimate that U.S. companies now export about $700 billion in goods and services, or 11% of total gross domestic product. Indeed, exports have gone from being an afterthought for farmers and chemical companies to big profits for America's most competitive companies in aerospace, engineering insurance, banking. and entertainment.

To help U.S. companies find business overseas. the government will set up "one-stop shops" combining federal agencies and resources in major export centers. The first ones are to open Jan. 1 in Baltimore, Chicago. Los Angeles, and Miami.

In addition, the administration plans to ask Congress for $150 million to offer "tied aid" deals linking foreign aid and trade in selected cases where countries are offered similar deals from foreign competitors. And Commerce Secretary Ron Brown said it is high time banks got back into the export financing business.

Still, exports cannot resume their role as a major engine of economic growth when recessions are clobbering Europe and Japan. While President Clinton and Mr. Brown were promising to create high-wage jobs for export industries. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen was at the Sheraton Washington Hotel urging U.S. trading partners to rev up their economic engines.

Grinding to a Halt

Ed Yardeni, chief economist for C.J. Lawrence Inc., notes that from 1986 to 1990, U.S. merchandise exports to developed countries doubled from $125 billion to $250 billion. But with only Canada and the United Kingdom showing any life in their economies, growth in U.S. exports to industrial nations has come to a halt and probably will not pick up before the middle of next year, he says.

U.S. exports to members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries - now struggling with failing oil prices - are also off. The only bright spot is developing countries, like those in Latin America, and small Asian industrial nations such as Korea and Taiwan.

The other big problem for exports is the inability of the United States and other governments to break the impasse over farm subsidies in the Uruguay round of multilateral trade talks. An agreement would lift barriers on 26 major categories of business - including banking, insurance, securities, and other services where U.S. companies excel. But the Dec. 15 deadline is not far off.

Under the Blair House agreement of last November, the European Community agreed to phase out farm subsidies, but the French have persuaded the EC to reopen the whole issue.

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