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Profiles in Power : The Negotiator : U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor Found Out Quickly That the New World Is a Dangerous Place, and That Danger Is Spelled M-O-N-E-Y. But He's Dealing With It Pretty Well, Considering Sleep Deprivation and All. (Don't Worry, All That's at Stake Is America's Economic Future.)

August 20, 1995|James Gerstenzang | James Gerstenzang is a Times staff writer based in Washington, D.C., covering international economics and trade. His last article for the magazine was on George Bush during the 1992 presidential campaign

At 5 a.m. in a conference room of the U.S. trade mission in Geneva, a room unadorned but for its glorious daytime view of Lake Geneva, all but one of the U.S. negotiators have given up, exhausted. A trade agreement that President Clinton considers crucial to the United States' economic future is on the line, and prospects look bleak. The key U.S. deputy, so fatigued that he fears he is suffering a heart attack, has gone home to his borrowed apartment and immediately fallen into a deep sleep.

On one side of the table sits Sir Leon Brittan, representing the European Community, and his deputies. On the U.S. side, the lone negotiator remains amid the empty coffee cups and scattered papers: U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor. At issue is whether Europe will relax regulations limiting the showing of U.S.-made movies and videos in movie theaters and on television channels. It is the only stumbling block to completing an agreement that could modernize the global trading system.

Kantor knows that success will turn a key that could eventually open markets around the world to U.S. products. Mexico is important. So is Japan. But this is the world. Completing this deal, he reasons, is the single most important step he can take to help America reach the world's consumers, with 96% of the world's population living outside the United States, and that could mean $100 billion in economic growth for the country.

This meeting, in December, 1993, comes after a week that could not have been more grueling, the issues more complex. As they inch closer to reconstructing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT, the negotiators have hammered out agreements regarding the international sale of commercial airliners. The United States maintains that Europe's controversial subsidies give the consortium building the European Airbus an unfair advantage over Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas. They've discussed questions over steel and questions dealing with textiles, unresolved despite seven years of talks. What about agricultural exports and politically potent subsidies? Would the new agreement include the growing international business in financial services--banking, stock brokerages and insurance companies, for example?

Jack Valenti, who three decades earlier watched master negotiator Lyndon B. Johnson from the vantage of the White House staff, is a player in the Geneva drama. As president of the Motion Picture Association of America, Valenti is Hollywood's man in Washington and is based temporarily in Geneva's Intercontinental Hotel. He is watching Kantor, another master negotiator, at work.

Kantor's pace has been relentless--sometimes 48 sleepless hours at a stretch, Valenti says. "He would have in one room aircraft guys; in another room, steel; in another room, agriculture; in another room, audiovisual. And without notes, he was moving from room to room. Many of those issues were unresolved, and he was involved in all of them. Four o'clock in the morning, he'd come into the room where we were and he'd work on a proposal to take to Brittan. After an hour, he'd go to the aircraft people."

And so he goes, from office to office, tie undone, jacket long discarded, shirttail flapping. No small talk. Kantor walks into the room, sinks quickly into a chair and announces: "Here's where we are" as he reports to the U.S. industries relying on his negotiation to boost their sales. Then he presents the latest proposals and counteroffers.

With less than a week to go, completing an agreement, no matter how limited, looks nearly impossible.

On Sunday morning, Dec. 12, Kantor meets with his senior deputy, Rufus Yerxa, and other top U.S. negotiators. Yerxa outlines where each segment of the talks stands. The deadline is three days away. "Mickey was under enormous pressure. The issues were coming at him," says a participant in the meeting. Peter Sutherland, director general of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, "was pounding on him, 'You've got to take this deal, that deal.' Every few minutes somebody was calling him."

"Mickey sat there, listening to Rufus go through the list of what had to be done. Every once in a while he'd blow up. 'That's not possible, that's not possible.' He kept punctuating it with emotion. He disagreed with this. He disagreed with that. Really technical stuff. Who to talk to next. What to say to Sutherland. How long to hold out. Senators calling. Senior congressional staff waiting outside. It was an amazing hour."

Two days later, every issue but one--the one dearest to Valenti and Hollywood--has essentially been settled. Kantor and Brittan go at it, tackling this last stumbling block. One by one, their aides drop away, exhausted. In the end, Kantor has met his match. Brittan will not yield.

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