Protectionist trade legislation, led by a bill capping textile imports at 1982 levels, "could well pass" Congress this year unless the Reagan Administration devises a more consistent trade policy, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said Friday.
Dole, who just returned from a two-week tour of Japan and four other Asian nations, said that President Reagan faces an erosion of Republican backing for his free-trade policies unless he adopts a tougher stance against countries that have trade barriers that discourage American exports.
He said he was "not necessarily disappointed" by Reagan's refusal this week to limit imports of shoes--a move America's beleaguered footwear makers had called crucial.
But, "there is a strong mood in Congress to do something to protect American jobs . . . notwithstanding the Administration," he added. "Republicans are not going to stand by and be rolled over by Democrats on trade issues."
Dole said that he and six other senators delivered the same warning this month, with some success, to officials in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone told the group that he will send a high-level delegation to the United States in late September to discuss trade differences.
"Our point was that we are friends--we want to remain that way, but we've got a big problem called the trade deficit," Dole said. "I think they got the message."
But he said he doubts that Asian nations will revise objectionable trade policies fast enough to discourage the protectionist legislation. Democrats and Republicans already are jockeying to place their own trade bills at the top of the agenda when the Senate returns to work on Sept. 9, he said.
Dole said he believes that trade legislation will be considered in mid-October and that limits on textile imports, sponsored by Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S. C.) and Rep. Ed Jenkins (R-Ga.), probably have the best chance of being passed. That could set up a confrontation with the White House, which has threatened to veto protectionist measures.
A much tougher Democratic-sponsored bill, imposing a 25% tariff on imports from those nations that do not reduce their trade surpluses with the United States, is far less likely to pass, he said.