Heseltine accuses Delors over trade deadlock

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The Independent Online
JACQUES DELORS, President of the European Commission, was accused yesterday by Michael Heseltine of being in breach of his duty to the European Community over this week's breakdown of world trade talks in Brussels.

With the Prime Minister reported to be 'hopping mad' with the French over their recalcitrance - reneging on last week's unanimous Birmingham summit agreement to push for a long- awaited deal on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt) - the President of the Board of Trade delivered the most scathing attack on Mr Delors since Margaret Thatcher left office two years ago.

Mr Heseltine told BBC Radio's The World at One that the EC heads of government meeting in Birmingham had unanimously 'instructed' the Commission to work for an agreement in the trade talks, in the hope of reaching a settlement within 10 weeks.

He said neither the French nor the British were directly involved in the negotiations. That had been left to Frans Andriessen, the Dutch First Vice-President of the Commission, responsible for trade policy. But he added: 'The difficulty is that the President of the Commission is, of course, very close to the French interests on this matter, and he has, therefore, conflicting loyalties.

'I hope very much that he will now see that the overwhelming view of the European people is that he should act as the European that he is, and conclude a deal with the Americans.'

If the French wanted to stand apart from that deal, he said, that was a matter for them. But he warned that if Mr Delors or the French dragged the EC down with them, the whole Community would fall victim to trade wars.

Mr Heseltine said there was a 'huge prize' to be won from a deal - an estimated increase of pounds 100bn in world trade. Failure would provoke US retaliation.

One of Mr Delors' senior advisers responded angrily to Mr Heseltine: 'His position has been perfectly consistent with that of the European Council both before and after Birmingham.'

Even before last week's summit Mr Delors had raised British doubts of his impartiality in the controversy over French blocking of a Gatt deal by referring to the US as Europe's 'big brother', and by repeatedly saying that Europe should not accept a Gatt deal unless it was equitable.

While his officials were seeking to defuse the row, the Commission President reiterated his view that the conditions for a deal were not in place. His statement was a sign of the row inside the Commission between his advisers and those of Ray McSharry, the Agriculture Commissioner, over whether to agree US demands.

Mr MacSharry said last night he had spoken to Ed Madigan, the US Agriculture Secretary, and both wanted a rapid agreement. But the US Department of Agriculture said no weekend meetings were planned between the two.

Mr Andriessen still hopes for a deal in the next two weeks. 'I still remain optimistic that we are in a position to find a positive conclusion in a very short period of time,' he said. Asked whether talks could be completed before the US presidential election on 3 November, he replied: 'Yes.'

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