World trade deal is just a weekend away

Click to follow
THE GATT trade deal that has eluded the world for seven years was tantalisingly within grasp last night, after Brussels and Washington announced jointly that they had resolved most of their differences and that the outlines of the final accord should be ready by Monday.

Even France, whose support for a deal has for so long been in question, gave it cautious approval when EU foreign ministers met to discuss the package last night. 'We have come out of the ice age,' said the Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe. 'The deal is not finalised and there are still problems, including agriculture, audiovisual and some other industrial sectors,' he said, but the Americans had given a 'positive response' to French demands on subsidised farm exports.

Mike Espy, the US Agriculture Secretary, said there were still important details to be worked out but Klaus Kinkel, the German Foreign Minister who has been leaning hard on France to show solidarity with her EU partners, said: 'We are on the right road.'

Yesterday morning, after two days of talks, the Trade Commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan, and the US special trade secretary, Mickey Kantor, senior negotiators for the EU and the US, emerged to tell the media: 'We are beginning to see the outlines of the final package. We hope to be able to resolve the outstanding bilateral issues by Monday and persuade our 114 trading partners in the rest of the world that the kind of agreement we want is acceptable to them.'

Mr Kantor promised that the eventual deal would 'taste great and be very fulfilling' but stressed that there were still areas to be resolved, citing in particular anti- dumping rules and the efforts to open up trade in the audiovisual sector: 'Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,' he insisted.

The breakthrough is the resolution of EU-US differences on improving market access, particularly in textiles, and on opening up agricultural trade, hitherto not covered by Gatt rules. The intransigence of both sides, particularly France's refusal to accept the Blair House accord on limiting subsidised farm exports, has held up agreement on other sectors. Behind the scenes last week agricultural experts led by the Commissioner for Agriculture, Rene Steichen, and Mr Espy put together a compromise they believe will satisfy Washington and Paris.

Resolution of this issue and that of market access was regarded as the key to a deal on everything else. It was in these areas that EU member states complained last night that they need more information. Nevertheless, while the 15 December deadline to conclude the deal will be tight, the impression was being given that the most thoroughgoing attempt to liberalise world trading rules might, this time, succeed.