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Behind White House Role As Pitchman for US Firms

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INDIA, like many developing nations, can be a tough place for foreign firms to win new business. But when Jack Shaw visited the country with 20 other American chief executives recently, he scored big, landing a $700 million contract for a satellite-communications system as well as two joint ventures.

Mr. Shaw, chairman of Hughes Network, credits the organizer, guide, and cheerleader of the trip: United States Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown. The presence of a high-ranking US official enabled the American business leaders to see everyone they wanted to, from top politicians to ministry purse holders.

''In my 30 years in international telecommunications, this is the first time that I've felt the US government has truly supported US business,'' says Shaw, whose firm is owned by Hughes Aircraft in Los Angeles.

Shaw's experience is not an isolated one. In its two years in office, the Clinton administration has worked hard to become a humming export-promotion machine, going far beyond the actions of its Republican predecessors as it champions the cause of US firms and scours for business opportunities worldwide.

Secretary Brown, for one, has become a tireless traveler in the contract cause. He may be facing ethics questions at home, but during his trips overseas Brown has helped rack up tens of billions of dollars in deals. US corporate leaders covet invitations to accompany the commerce secretary to Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

The Clinton administration has developed a sophisticated team to go to bat for business, marshaling players from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Departments of Commerce, State, Energy, and Defense, as well as financing agencies. Penetration of foreign markets is a major topic at President Clinton's National Economic Council meetings.

''It's not just a question of a few high-level trips,'' says Jeffrey Garten, Commerce Department deputy secretary for international trade. ''We have a very elaborate system designed to help sizable firms win contracts overseas.''

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