President Reagan said Tuesday that he plans to nominate Clayton Yeutter, the 54-year-old president of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, to replace William E. Brock III as U.S. special trade representative.
The announcement was greeted with enthusiasm on Capitol Hill, especially among farm state lawmakers, and White House officials said they expect Yeutter to be routinely approved by the Senate.
The Nebraska-born trade expert will move into a sensitive post at a time when the United States is locked in increasingly tense trade negotiations with Japan and with protectionist sentiment--fanned by record trade deficits--rising in Congress.
California Rep. Ed Zschau (D-Los Altos), who has battled to open foreign markets to high-technology firms from his Silicon Valley district, said he is optimistic that Yeutter will "follow Bill Brock's lead" in pressing for freer trade with the Japanese and others.
One Republican Senate trade expert said Yeutter had the strongest trade background of any of the more than two dozen candidates considered by the White House, although he lacks the political stature of some Republicans who turned down the post.
Sources said that, among those also considered to succeed Brock, who has been nominated as secretary of labor, were Citicorp Chairman Walter Wriston, former New York Rep. Barber Conable and Rep. Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.).
Before becoming president and chief executive of the giant Chicago exchange, Yeutter served in both the Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford administrations in trade and agricultural posts, including deputy special trade representative. Associates described him as having close congressional ties in both political parties.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said President Reagan had "pretty well made up his mind," even before he met with Yeutter on Tuesday afternoon. Reagan believes that Yeutter's previous experience will enable him "to hit the ground running" at a crucial moment in trade negotiations, Speakes said.
Brock was nominated to be labor secretary after Raymond J. Donovan resigned when a federal judge refused to block a fraud indictment against him. Brock will continue as trade representative until he is confirmed.
Key members of Congress were quick to praise Yeutter's appointment.
"He knows the plays and the players," said Rep. Daniel Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, "and he will make a first-class trade representative."
"He knows first-hand the need for vigorous export markets and will be an effective negotiator," said Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.), who called the nomination "good news for the American farmer, as well as every other American whose livelihood is tied to international trade."
Rep. Dan Glickman (D-Kan.) said the selection was probably influenced by a pressing political need for the Administration to mend fences with the severely depressed farm industry.
"It's probably a victory for American agriculture," he said.
Yeutter grew up in Nebraska and for several years ran a 2,500-acre farm and feeder-cattle business while at the same time teaching at the University of Nebraska.
As deputy special trade representative, he took part in trade talks with the Soviet Union and was involved in early negotiations with the Japanese on allowing American automobiles into Japanese markets.
"He is very much a free trader," said a longtime Washington acquaintance. "He is not a protectionist by any stretch of the imagination. . . . If he has a problem, it is apt to be with the Congress and all the myriad segments of the business community, rather than our trading partners."