An article in Saturday's business section incorrectly reported the position of Joseph C. Stokes Jr. at Life Technologies Inc. of Gaithersburg. He is the company's vice president, chief financial officer, secretary and treasurer.
+ The Sun regrets the errors.
After seven years of negotiation among 117 countries, an immensely complex 800-page agreement, intended to expand global trade by trillions of dollars over the next five or ten years, was signed Wednesday in Brussels, Belgium.
In government trade offices and corporate headquarters around the world, details of the new General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade are still being digested. In fact, the terms of some protocols and regulations to implement the agreement will be under negotiation for months to come, adding additional hundreds of pages to the documents.
Basic objectives of the agreement include lower tariffs, reductions in laws and rules that limit trade, and improvements in the protection of patents, copyrights and other forms of "intellectual property."
To get an initial view of how Maryland's economy might be affected by history's most ambitious global trade agreement, The Sun asked for comments by senior executives of a sampling of companies of widely varied kinds, sizes and locations.
Here are the early impressions of some of those executives.
Bailey A. Thomas, president and CEO, McCormick & Co., producer of spices and flavorings.
"As we were with the North American Free Trade Agreement, McCormick is very strongly in favor of any agreement that enhances world trade. We are very eager that there be a level playing field, and that the United States not be put at any disadvantage. . . . As to specific effects on our company, spices are not generally grown in the United States, and only some items that we import are subject to import duties. For the items that we import that are subject to duties, as these duties come down over the next few years under the agreement, that will be an advantage to us. . . . In a broader sense, this new agreement will enhance world trade and expand world business. As a global player, we see any worldwide expansion of business as very good news."
Curtis H. Barnette, chairman and CEO, Bethlehem Steel Corp., steel maker.
"I traveled to Geneva for the final rounds, and the first thing I want to do is recognize the truly extraordinary efforts of Ambassador Mickey Kantor and the entire U.S. negotiating team. The agreement is extremely complex, and the next step will be to craft the U.S. implementing legislation. We have not yet reached the point we were at a few weeks ago on the North American Free Trade Agreement, where all the terms were well known and people could see just how they might be affected. For us, the first priority right now is to understand the language, and we have a team at work in-house on that. . . . On dumping
issues there is certainly no question that what Ambassador Kantor and his team have negotiated is a big, big improvement over . . . what the rest of the world was proposing. But even dumping itself is not just one issue but a whole host of issues, and we are still in the process of trying to evaluate what impact the agreement's wording may have on existing U.S. law."
John McCaughey, president, M. S. Willett Inc., Cockeysville-based tool and die maker.
"We have not yet had a chance to digest the details, but we are now doing fully a third of our business in Europe, and for us the most important feature will be the atmosphere that is created as the agreement is implemented. We believe it will greatly improve the atmosphere for our overseas sales, creating more willingness to deal with U.S. suppliers. To some extent, Europe is now moving to new levels of technology that make it attractive to consider products like ours, which include machines that make easy-open can tops, wine bottle tops and a variety of other packagings for consumer and industrial goods. . . . We believe this agreement will do a great deal to improve the climate in which we work with these customers."
A. B. Krongard, CEO, Alex. Brown & Sons Inc., investment banking firm.
"We believe in and practice the capitalist system. We are in the business of facilitating the interchange of capital, and anything that makes the flow of goods and capital in the world freer is
good for all business and therefore for our business. We do not have a specific stake in any particular provisions. For us, the advantage will be a better world business climate."
Kirk Renaud, CEO, BioBrite Corp., a Bethesda-based medical technology company.
"As a company with revenues still under $1 million a year, we are not big enough to have a staff to analyze complex agreements like GATT, but it seems clear that we will be affected over the next few years. Many of our sales are overseas, and we always face complications and hassles getting products into new markets. Exactly how much it will help us, or in which countries, will depend on details that we have not yet looked at. Certainly, anything that improves market access will be one of the benefits to us. We also hold a number of patents, and we always have to study very carefully before we send a new product overseas, because piracy is always a threat. If this agreement does strengthen intellectual property rights as much as the initial reports suggest, that would be a major benefit to us."
Carolyn Donohue, president, Waverly International Inc., foreign division of Waverly Press, medical and scientific publisher.
"Intellectual property rights protection is the most significant part of this agreement for Waverly International. Many countries do -- not enforce their copyright and patent laws, and piracy is a problem for us year in and year out, especially in countries like Singapore, Korea and Thailand. Up to now, we have had to track down the offender whenever we could, and take them to court as best we could under local laws. As we understand it, the national governments will now become active in enforcing these laws."
Joseph C. Stokes Jr., president, Life Technologies Inc., Gaithersburg, global supplier of products for molecular biology and cell and tissue culture.
"We are interested both in an overall freer flow of world trade and in the intellectual properties provisions of the new GATT. As things are now, we have to go to each indi- vidual country and meet its patent requirements every time we take a product to a new country. The legal expenses alone, just to protect your right to your own product, can be staggering. We are hoping the new GATT will produce more uniformity in patent and copyright laws and procedures."
Ted Caris, publisher, Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, a Bethesda producer of data bases.
"We've been pro-free trade for the longest time, for the simple reason that 70 percent of our customers are outside the borders of the United States. Our data bases travel universally and are the lifeblood of research and university teaching in many scientific fields. For us, it is essential that there be no barriers to the international flow of ideas. We are going to be especially interested as the final details become clear on protection of patents and copyrights in the new information technology fields. Our materials are available on CD-ROM, on tape and in print. We sell subscriptions that give the customer unlimited use so long as the material remains on the medium in which it is sold, but we have to prohibit any activity like downloading into computers or re-recording. . . . Anything that strengthens the protection of intellectual property rights is very important to us."
Philip L. Rohrer Jr., vice president and chief financial officer, BioWhittaker Corp., a biotechnology country.
"We are in the medical devices and biologicals businesses, and tariffs have not been an issue for us. Provisions on patents and copyrights probably won't affect us much, either, because, to be frank, in the biologicals business, with only a few notable exceptions, even in the United States patent protection is pretty shaky. Biologicals and living organisms are variable enough that you can create one tomorrow that is different from mine for patent purposes but still does the same job for the customer."