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