Common name for section 301 of the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act
, which gives the United States Trade Representative
the authority to impose retaliatory penalties on state
s that exhibit "systematically unfair" trade practices toward the US. In 1988
, when it entered Congressional debate, the bill was touted as an attack on America's trade deficit vis a vis Japan
, which was experiencing the height of its bubble economy
at the time, and was believed to be turning into the next economic superpower.
Before the bubble collapsed in the early nineties, Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry synchronized financial, industrial, and trade policy to create an environment where Japanese companies could afford relentless expansion overseas, while tariffs and trade quotas protected their business at home. To American laissez-faire sensibilities, this was intolerable, and so Super 301 was created in an attempt to force "the Japanese" to change their ways. Brazil and India were also cited as possible targets of the legislation.
While Congress was largely in favor of Super 301, both Ronald Reagan and Daddy Bush quietly opposed it, largely out of fear that it would undermine the two countries' security relationship. In 1989, the White House threw Congress a bone by citing Japan's practices in the satellite, supercomputer, and lumber industries as discriminatory, and let the Japanese government escape potential penalties by entering a round of conciliatory talks called the Structural Impediments Initiative. However, influential congressmen like Lloyd Bentsen and Dick Gephardt continued to criticize the Bush administration for a "failed trade policy."
The House of Representatives approved a modified version of Super 301 in 1992. Dan Rostenkowski changed its language to make retaliatory action a last resort, and added additional language advocating caps on imports of Japanese cars. However, George Bush told Congress that he would veto the bill if it was passed, and many other countries sharply criticized the legislation. Since Congress wouldn't be able to muster the needed two-thirds majority for a veto override, the Senate never brought Super 301 to vote, and it died within the walls of the Capitol.
In 1994 and 1997, Bill Clinton re-instituted Super 301 by executive order to deal with specific trade barriers in South Korea, Thailand, China, the European Union, and Canada. The Super 301 provisions remain in effect under George W. Bush, but nowadays most Super 301 disputes are mediated through the World Trade Organization.