Riding the Tigers

American Commercial Diplomacy in Asia

February 01, 1998


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Economic Crises




The Asian financial market meltdown and the fierce debate over the U.S. role in a bail-out tend to obscure the huge scale of American exports to the region, currently $200 billion a year. Washington's efforts to promote U.S. exports to Asia are equally controversial, having been tarred by the "Huang-gate" hearings on illegal campaign donations andaccusations of political favoritism and corporate welfare.

The study group report argues that commercial diplomacy--despite its flaws--can be an essential complement to structural reforms in Asia, a tool that can pry open Asian markets to U.S. exports of goods and services. Asia's temporary economic crisis presents a window of opportunity for U.S. commercial diplomacy can promote competitive markets, deregulation, privatization, and official transparency.

Based on a careful, year-long review by a panel of business, academic, and government experts, the report recommends that commercial diplomacy should be intelligently managed and carefully focused on the highest growth U.S. markets in Asia. It would be a mistake to kill commercial diplomacy, or leave it to wither because of political misdeeds or past errors. There is too much at stake.