As eighteen leading trading nations, Russia excepted, meet at Geneva to initiate a revival of world trade as a basis for lasting peace and prosperity, the frank, business-like atmosphere suggests that many of the very basic cleavages in attitudes may be reconciled. While the conferences deal with both a long-range issue (a charter for the proposed International Trade Organization) and a more immediate problem (the writing of new multi-lateral trade agreements), the same conflicting philosophics hamper both tasks. Fortunately America, upon whom the success of the sessions and the ultimate fortunes of the ITO and world trade rests, seems, at last, to have accepted its responsibilities.
Briefly slated, the chief area of disagreement in to what extent the many semi-socialistic, debtor nations, particularly the United Kingdom, are willing to relax their closely gripped trade reins and exchange concessions with the great creditor nation, the United States, devoted to a lively, but often capricious free-enterprise system. The first group of nations places a high level of employment and security from depression well before expansion or profits. As one London paper stated on the eve of the meetings, "These countries think that the first task is not to increase world trade but to make its flow more equitable."
The American view, which alone exudes any positive or optimistic undertones, is that only through withdrawal of trade restrictions leading to greater volumes of world trade and production can any real prosperity be assured. To this end, American delegates are empowered by Congress to reduce tariffs on any import up to 50 percent, and this authority glitters as the chief American concession to foreign nations. In return, our Government is seeking a general world-wide reduction of tariff barriers, and an end to the British Empire preference system.
Great Britain is, as yet, unwilling to abandon Empire Preference, although she heartily agrees to over-all tariff reductions. Her reluctance to meet America all the way is based, in part, upon her uncertainty as to whether our tariffs will again become a political football as well as her fear that American prosperity is at best an ephemeral thing. But Britain is also overly sensitive of her unaccustomed role of debtor nation and tends to keep a too watchful eye on bank balances, at the expense of economic initiative.
Clearly, America's policy is encouraging and merits full support for two reasons. First, our barriers down, expanded world trade approach offers the best long run hope for any real world prosperity and economic peace. Second, a program of expansion both at home and throughout the world, is out finest and perhaps last chance to demonstrate the essential superiority of a free enterprise system as a medium for a high level of employment and standard of living as compared with the government controlled economics of other nations. By supporting a low tariff policy and by putting our own economic house in order, we can best achieve these aims.