Farm Issue Threatens GATT Talks DEADLINE NIGH

Article excerpt

THE four-year Uruguay Round of international negotiations on liberalizing trade rules is coming down to the wire with no agreement in sight on the crucial issue of agriculture.

With an Oct. 15 deadline for final negotiating positions on agriculture having passed without a proposal from the European Community (EC), the United lStates continues to warn that failure to move forward on world farm trade reform could lead to collapse of the 100-nation General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade talks.

European officials promise a final agriculture trade offer to the GATT talks in Geneva will be forthcoming sometime this week. But any European offer is unlikely to settle the row between the US and the EC over farm support programs - at root a clash of visions of farmers and farming.

Still, GATT officials insist the time remains to find the necessary compromises. But they admit that some of the tougher subjects, such as agriculture, may not be settled before the round's concluding ministerial meeting begins in Brussels on Dec. 3.

"We've reached a crunch, and if that puts negotiating governments in an uncomfortable position and gets them moving, then it's welcome," says GATT spokesman David Woods. The goal now, he adds, is to use the seven weeks before the Brussels meeting "to clear away as much undergrowth as possible" so ministers in December can focus on the remaining "big questions."

Western nations hope to see the talks result in new trade rules for areas such as services and intellectual property. Developing nations appear willing to support such new rules, but in return they want reduced trade barriers for their farm products and textiles.

US officials say they fear a walkout from the talks by developing nations if they don't see a better deal on agriculture forthcoming. Plan hit from both sides

The EC commission has endorsed a plan for trimming the Community's $53 billion in annual farm supports by 30 percent by 1996. But that proposal is drawing high heat from the Community's farm and trade ministers, who generally express greater interest in protecting the EC's 10 million farmers.

Even as European officials battle among themselves, US officials say a 30 percent cut won't be enough, and are zeroing in on the EC's $35 billion agricultural export support program as a prime target for deeper cuts.

Examples abound of how such export subsidies distort world trade and hurt the developing countries that are vital to a final GATT accord. …