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Yeutter Institute hoping to capitalize on increased attention to global trade

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With time running out to set an agenda for the coming round of global trade negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, Clayton Yeutter faced a difficult choice.

Pushing to address how the global patchwork of regulations limiting the export of U.S. services such as insurance and data processing to other countries, the Nebraska-born Yeutter hoped a resolution could help solve the country's $170 billion trade deficit.

But with countries such as Brazil and India standing firm in their opposition, the U.S. Trade Representative saw two ways forward.

He could risk putting the agenda item to a vote of the 72 countries and push away opponents who could then rally other countries to their cause, potentially sinking the entire negotiation and throwing the world economy into uncertainty in the process.

Or, Yeutter could accept a proposal to negotiate the export of services along a second track after having rejected the idea soundly just days before, alienating U.S. allies along the way.

Yeutter's decision has become an example to future diplomats and trade negotiators on deploying bluff and brinkmanship, as well as a lesson on the importance of forming coalitions and the nature of compromise.

The case study developed by the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University may soon become a valuable lesson for students at the fledgling trade institute bearing Yeutter's name.

"Clayton's career is full of examples like this that could be good case studies for students interested in international trade," said Jill O'Donnell, director of the Clayton Yeutter Institute of International Trade and Finance.

Established through a $2.5 million donation from Yeutter and his wife, and a matching appropriation from the Nebraska Legislature, the new institute is finding a footing on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's East Campus.

"Because of the current environment, I'm taking a lot of phone calls from people in the community who are really interested in learning more about what's happening and what the potential impacts may be," said O'Donnell, a native of Columbus.

She and Matt Schaefer, a professor of international trade law at UNL, have spoken about how the Trump administration is applying existing law as it pursues new deals with trading partners, how those countries are retaliating through tariffs and other measures, and what the outcomes might be for the Cornhusker State's largest economic sector, agriculture.

"The outreach portion of the institute's mission is full speed ahead right now because of the demand," O'Donnell said, adding she's spoken to multiple civic groups and business leaders over the last few months, with many more scheduled.

O'Donnell, who began at the institute in July, said she believes the same elevated awareness from the public will also inspire students to pursue educational opportunities created through the Yeutter Institute.

She has been examining how the university is teaching trade, economics and foreign policy, and how the Yeutter Institute may be able to bring those faculty together to build upon existing strengths.

The institute hopes to fill a trio of endowed positions, one each from the College of Law, College of Business and Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, that will be responsible for bringing the mission of the Yeutter Institute together for students.

"We want to bring in people who have been on the front lines of trade negotiations and who have an intimate understanding of their processes," O'Donnell said, adding that the Yeutter Institute's former diplomat-in-residence, Darci Vetter, who was also a Nebraska native and former chief agricultural negotiator, was a good example of the professional UNL hopes to land.

"We're also looking for people who have spent their careers studying trade from a variety of different angles who can put it into a context for others," she added.

Once those experts are in place, O'Donnell said the Yeutter Institute wants to attract UNL students from all different disciplines — law, business, political science, animal health, journalism and others — to think creatively about Nebraska and the United States' place in a global economy.

To do that, they'll work through case studies, learn negotiating strategies through collaborative exercises, and conduct research in areas ripe for more study, such as how trade deficits are calculated, the impact of global value chains, or the future of digital trade.

Aspiring trade negotiators, for example, could decide upon a different path than Yeutter did during the Uruguay Round. The trade representative agreed to pursue negotiations of services in a separate forum, a move that gave the outnumbered countries opposing the services question a graceful exit, and one the U.S. could smooth over with its allies.

O'Donnell said while the education will go beyond Yeutter's career, his influence will be felt throughout.

"I think Clayton had tremendous foresight and generosity in establishing this institute," she said. "He saw Nebraska and the University of Nebraska as a great resource. I think this is a great legacy for him."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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Higher education/statehouse reporter

A native of Beatrice, Chris Dunker has reported on higher education, state government and other issues since joining the Journal Star in 2014.

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