While the European Commission remained optimistic that agreement was possible by the weekend, France won increasing support for its objections to agricultural concessions demanded by the US. There will be no accord without agreement on agriculture.
A Community spokesman said: 'We are working on the assumption that by Wednesday or Thursday the baby could be born. We are preparing the ground for a political breakthrough; we will make it.'
John Gummer, Minister of Agriculture, said a deal 'is within our grasp'. David Curry, Minister of State for Agriculture, warned the costs of not getting a deal 'are absolutely huge'. Failure would lead to 'an absolutely catastrophic scenario of retaliation and counter-retaliation'. A pact to liberalise trade would boost the world economy by an estimated dollars 200bn ( pounds 125bn).
France continues to block a compromise on cutting EC cereal exports to the US. But yesterday it came under none of the expected pressure from EC colleagues to conform. Instead, prominent member states rallied to its support.
Ignaz Kiechle, Germany's Agriculture Minister, said there could be no question of forcing France into a corner and deciding the EC position on a majority vote of the Twelve. 'If the US does not improve its offer France will not be the only one to say 'no',' he said. Madrid and Dublin made similar statements.
The British presidency would like to crown December's Edinburgh summit with a Gatt deal. Mr Gummer, chairing yesterday's meeting, said it was 'an extremely good moment to achieve a deal' from which France would benefit considerably. But he avoided pushing the meeting to any conclusion, so as not to undermine the negotiations.
The Commission has not ruled out a New York meeting this week.
Ministers try to agree, page 8
Kind words, cruel policies, page 17