With regard to relations with South Korea and ASEAN countries, President Clinton spoke early on about the importance he attaches to these relations by making APEC an annual summit process and pursuing an ambitious trade liberalization agenda within APEC. But in the end, it was the Asian financial crisis that set the tone for U.S. relations in East Asia and even, to some extent, APEC. The 1990s opened a defensive snag with the United States on competitiveness and a broad political consensus on the need for the United States to be more aggressive in promoting its trade interests. This attitude changed dramatically over the decade, when the United States regained its international dominance in sectors that have formed as engines of growth and macroeconomic performance. By the late 1990s, America had established one of the most impressive records in decades on the exchange of trade agreements with important regional and bilateral partners and on the management of the multilateral trading system, which has a profound impact on economic and foreign policy. The United States has implemented 14 trade agreements with a total of 20 countries. Some free trade purists have criticized the aggressive use of the WTO dispute settlement system. However, the Clinton administration deliberately adopted a policy of using international law mechanisms to reaffirm the primacy of the multilateral system and to show domestic political critics that the United States could use the new system to advance its interests. This strategy was attacked by Congress and national interests, when the United States won cases at the WTO to find its trading partners, and in particular the EU, which opted for retaliatory measures instead of making changes to the controversial provisions. For its part, the United States has established a record of compliance with negative WTO decisions, but this may prove more difficult in the coming months.
And the expansion of trade, in turn, has contributed centrally to America`s excellence. From the early to mid-1990s, trade was an important driver of growth. However, over the decade, the contribution of trade has increasingly been a drag on inflation, which probably gave the Federal Reserve a little more leeway to deal with the 1998 financial crisis. Second, there has been a marked increase in activism among groups that have resisted globalization. Initially, activism was organized on specific goals such as the anti-sweatshop movement on university campuses, debt cancellation of the poorest countries and the management of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. But from the WTO protests in Seattle in 2000 and the continuation of every international meeting since then, the fight against globalization has become a collective tangle for a much more diffuse interest group. Ironically, this cowardly movement is itself the product of the globalization of ideas. Trade was important in the 1990s. Opponents and supporters agree that trade has been very much in our national consciousness, in our domestic politics, in our economic performance and in our diplomatic relations.
Many of the major commercial achievements of the 1990s will leave their mark in the years to come.