Film squabble takes Gatt to brink

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The Independent Online
THIRTEEN countries yesterday held 103 other states hostage over a global trade deal, to the increasing irritation of all involved.

The Failure of the United States and the European Union to agree over audiovisual products and services - including the vexed issue of the film industry - continued to stifle progress towards a Gatt agreement that is so close you can almost smell the ink of the final accord.

Audiovisuals are not the only block to a deal - there are still problems with financial services, textiles and intellectual property - but audiovisual is shaping up as the cliffhanger.

But the film, in which the only actors are Washington and Brussels, is showing to empty houses in Geneva, where weary negotiators yesterday cleared most of the big obstacles to a final accord and could barely believe they were still waiting - seven years on - for the EU and the Americans to settle their differences.

'I think we can reach a deal by the deadline,' said Sir Leon Brittan, the European Union's trade commissioner. But Europe remained tough on audiovisuals, and Sir Leon was told by EU foreign ministers to reject a US deal on the table.

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, said it would be 'bizarre' if this were to destroy a deal. But foreign ministers meeting in Brussels told Sir Leon to take a tough stance in the endgame.

US demands for concessions on new high-technology broadcasting services are unacceptable, ministers said. This is an area that the EU hopes can create thousands of jobs over the next decade, and it does not want a US stranglehold, diplomats said.

Sir Leon returned to Geneva last night for another night of negotiations with Mickey Kantor, the US trade representative. 'Get ready for a long night,' an EU spokesman said.

Audiovisuals are not the only problem. The textiles part of the agreement would damage Portugal, which has threatened a veto. Financial services are also an obstacle, as is the creation of an institution to regulate world trade.

The EU still has lingering problems among its own ranks. France has said that it cannot support a Gatt deal unless EU trade defences are beefed up, and that is likely to be a key issue when ministers meet tomorrow. The French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, continued to cast doubt over whether a package acceptable to all 12 EU countries would emerge.

For the second time in as many days Gatt's Director- General, Peter Sutherland, pressed Brussels and Washington to agree. Killing any idea that the deadline of midnight tomorrow could be extended, he said: 'Brinkmanship is all very well, but the brink is finally reached on Wednesday.'