Apec urges speedy end to Gatt talks: Asia-Pacific nations put pressure on Europe over trade and Washington makes concessions to improve relations with China

THE US and its North American and Pacific trading partners yesterday issued a call for 'urgent action' to complete the Uruguay round of the Gatt world trade talks by the 15 December deadline. In a warning aimed at European nations, particularly France, they said: 'The time for pledges and commitments is long past.'

Ministers of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum (Apec), which includes the US, Japan, China and 14 other Pacific Rim economies, said 'concrete steps' were required to improve market access in agricultural as well as industrial goods and in services. The chief US trade negotiator, Mickey Kantor, described the statement as a 'major jump start' to the Gatt negotiations.

The main obstacle to a successful conclusion of Gatt, in the view of the nations meeting in Seattle, is the French demand to reopen last year's Blair House Accord between the European Union and the US on agricultural liberalisation. Apec ministers said the Blair House agreement already diluted the draft treaty on agriculture, 'and any further attempts to weaken that outcome would jeopardise the ability to secure an overall acceptable result on agriculture'.

Apec also resisted any attempt to drop agriculture from the Gatt accord. 'Ministers again reiterated that agriculture remains an essential elements of a global and balanced result,' said Mr Kantor.

Behind the week's consultations, which for the first time in Apec's four-year history have been given a higher profile by including heads of government, is a desire to show Europe that it risks being left behind. The EU requested observer status at the conference but was turned down. Yesterday's Apec declaration emphasised that the participants spoke for 'the most economically powerful and dynamic region in the world,' representing nearly 40 per cent of world population and trade.

Early this year the Group of Seven industrial nations agreed that tariffs should be abolished in several categories of goods such as pharmaceuticals, agricultural and medical equipment. Apec ministers agreed to follow suit if an overal Gatt deal is reached and to propose a further list of goods, including electronics, wood, paper and scientific equipment. According to Mr Kantor, trade in these additional sectors among Apec members who are also in Gatt is worth about dollars 250bn.

Most of those taking part in Apec were anxious to avoid doing anything that might distract attention from the need to wrap up a Gatt deal. At the conclusion of their meeting they had failed to take up a proposal by an advisory panel, appointed to create a blueprint for the future, that Apec should decide by 1996 on a target date for establishing an economic 'community'.

Members of the panel had to explain repeatedly that their choice of the word did not imply anything on the European model; most Apec members consider the EU a byword for hide-bound bureaucracy.

Despite resistance to any concept of an Asia-Pacific free trade area, the American chairman of the advisory chairman, Fred Bergsten, said a successful Apec would send a message round the world, 'because it shows that there is a second best alternative if Gatt fails'.

President Clinton said yesterday that the Japanese Prime Minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, had accepted an invitation to visit the US on 11 February.

Leading article, page 18

(Photograph omitted)

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