EC acts to end Gatt impasse

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The Independent Online
BRUSSELS - The European Commission yesterday stepped up the pressure on France to stop blocking a key US-EC farm accord and with it any progress towards a Gatt deal, writes Sarah Lambert.

The deal, which in limiting the land given over to oilseed production settles a long-running dispute under rules of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, must be signed by June, Rene Steichen, the EC commissioner for agriculture, said yesterday.

But in the new spirit of friendlier EC-US relations, Mike Espy, the US Agriculture Secretary, said: 'I am not on a mission to demand any deadlines.' Mr Espy was in Brussels to meet Mr Steichen for the first time since the Clinton administration took over.

Foot-dragging over the oilseeds accord has overshadowed progress on a global Gatt deal since it is linked to the more general agriculture package hammered out last year. France is similarly blocking that deal on the grounds that it implies greater production curbs than already agreed under last year's internal reform of EC farm policy.

Mr Steichen repeated that the EC Commission had no intention of reopening the agriculture package. Mr Espy said he was confident the stalled Gatt round could be successfully completed by 15 December, when the 'fast-track' mandate for the speeding of legislation through Congress runs out. 'We are at the beginning of the endgame,' he said.