`Banana war' talks

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN and the US sought to head off the transatlantic trade war over bananas yesterday, expressing their determination to reach a settlement as soon as possible, write Stephen Castle and Rachel Sylvester.

During what was described as a "full and frank" exchange at a meeting in London, Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, and Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, committed themselves to "compatibility" rather than confrontation.

Britain is seeking to position itself as a mediator. Brian Wilson, a trade minister, said the World Trade Organisation appeared to be "within touching distance" of solving the dispute amid fears that the row could damage the global economy if it continued to escalate.

The WTO and the European Commission are to meet in emergency session tomorrow in an attempt to find a solution to the trade war, which is threatening to take the relationship with the US to its lowest point for more than a decade. The American ambassador to London, Philip Lader, has twice been hauled before ministers to explain his government's actions.

The row broke out after America imposed punitive sanctions on European products, including Scottish cashmere, in response to EU rules favouring Caribbean banana imports over those from Latin America grown by American companies.

The banana war may just be the first in a series of clashes. Brussels is bracing itself for further conflict over its ban on hormone-treated beef and on its right to limit imports of genetically modified organisms. A separate row over aircraft noise restrictions - which could result in Concorde being banned from the US - is also set to re-surface.