Thursday, February 2, 2012

Steve Lande -- A Consummate Negotiator

WTD published last week an extensive "interview" with consummate US trade negotiator and long-time Washington advisor on trade policy Stephen Lande. To say that it was an interview is a misnomer. It was really like a negotiation which took over two months of going back and forth until both sides got it right – and Mr. Lande was happy.

But that is what Mr. Lande has been all about during his 40-plus years of trade negotiating.

I first met Steve during the Reagan Administration when he was assistant US Trade Representative for the Americas – and one of the chief authors of the revolutionary Caribbean Basin Initiative program for poor countries in the Caribbean area and later Central America.

As a young reporter I had tried repeatedly – but unsuccessfully – to contact Mr. Lande at USTR to find out more about the initiative. I got used to "answers" from his secretary that he was not in, or busy with something else or otherwise unavailable.

Then I discovered a copy of a Presidential Action Memo (something or other) which outlined the new CBI program, leaving a few square brackets for decision by the White House or the President himself.

I made a call again to Mr. Lande, telling his secretary that I had a copy of the memo and just had one questions relating to one of the square brackets – which appeared to leave it up to the White House to pick one alternative over the other. One alternative, to me, seemed to be very protectionist.

About five minutes later I got a return call from Mr. Lande himself. I immediately suggested that the first – less restrictive – alternative would likely be more appropriate. Without caution, he said "yes," and then jumped in to ask where I got that memo.

To this day it remains a secret.

Since then, we have been good friends as I followed him from one public forum – some tiny – to another to explain the CBI initiative once it broke out of the White House and had the strong backing of President Reagan.

Another story. A year or so ago I had an opportunity – quite by accident – to sit at a table at the National Press Club during one of its luncheon speeches with several USTR staffers including its head at the time of the Caribbean/Central American office. I mentioned that I had known Steve Lande for quite a long time. They asked me who he was.

I conveyed that response to Steve, who I bumped into later in the day. In his own manner, he expressed surprise and immediately got on the phone to the Caribbean office to reintroduce himself.

Another long-time Washington trade guru – also a former official of USTR – whom I talked to recently about the incident said he not surprised. It unfortunately is too often the case at USTR – where there is a very serious lack of institutional memory.

Jim Berger

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