Outlook brighter for Gatt talks

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OPTIMISM over the stalled world trade talks has grown, with senior trade negotiators predicting that France may agree to an outline deal at next month's economic summit in Tokyo.

The first indications of the new mood emerged during the recent annual meetings of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris. Since then, senior officials have taken heart from French approval of a US-EC accord on trade in oilseeds.

Last week, Edouard Balladur, the French Prime Minister, warned that France still found the Washington-Brussels Blair House agreement on cutting farm trade subsidies unacceptable. But officials interpret this stand as an effort to limit the negotiating room of Sir Leon Brittan, the EC's chief trade negotiator, at critical trade talks between the US, EC, Japan and Canada in Tokyo, two weeks before the 7-9 July economic summit.

Those trade talks, on 23-24 June, will be the occasion when the main countries reveal their final negotiating positions and will determine whether an an outline Uruguay round deal can be agreed at the summit.

The main worry now is a breakdown in trade talks between the US and Japan. Tokyo is rejecting US attempts to impose numerical import targets in an effort to curb the Japanese trade surplus and prise open Japanese markets to foreign goods. Hopes are pinned, however, on Japan's reluctance to allow the Gatt talks to collapse irrevocably on its home ground at Tokyo.

The new strategy for saving the Uruguay round has been developed by Sir Leon and Mickey Kantor, the US Trade Representative.

The deadline for an overall agreement is 15 December, in effect the cut-off date for President Bill Clinton to present Congress with a Gatt agreement or risk the deal being picked apart by congressional committees.