Foreign Ministers Joust over Farm Trade Reform Fall GATT Deadline Raises the Intensity of Agriculture Trade Debate

Article excerpt

EUROPEAN Community external trade commissioner Sir Leon Brittan arrives for talks in Washington this week representing a Community still deeply divided over the problem of farm trade liberalization.

With France threatening to use its veto to stop an agreement reached last November with the United States on reducing subsidized farm exports, EC member countries face a stark choice: rebuff the French and see the Community plunged into yet another internal crisis - after the summer's monetary upheavals - or risk the collapse of global trade liberalization negotiations.

Long discussions among EC foreign ministers over the past weekend, plus talks in the coming week, could still result in a compromise solution. In addition, Belgian Foreign Minister Willy Claes, who will represent the EC at today's signing of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, said he would discuss trade issues with Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

Still, with the seven-year-old Uruguay Round of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations set to conclude by Dec. 15, time is running short.

Belgium, which holds the EC's rotating presidency through December, hosted two days of talks.

"I can't say I see somewhere the beginning of compromise," Mr. Claes said. "The different approaches are still there."

Claes's words could not have been music to the ears of French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who called for a "European bloc to show {the Americans} that Europe is not divided."

Saying that the Americans were demonstrating "absolute intransigence" by refusing to change last year's farm trade agreement, Mr. Juppe said the US position - which "might be a bluff" - could mean failure of the GATT talks.

"Are the Americans ready to run that risk?," he asked. "I don't think so."

THE problem for France is twofold. First, none of its 11 EC partners appears to support a renegotiation of the so-called "Blair House" accord, reached between the US and the EC's executive commission. …