Balladur sets out stall on trade

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EDOUARD BALLADUR, France's new Prime Minister, discussed the troubled Gatt negotiations yesterday, bringing an early focus to a dossier which could bring him his first international crisis.

Mr Balladur called in Gerard Longuet, the Industry and Foreign Trade Minister; Jean Puech, the Agriculture Minister; Alain Juppe, the Foreign Minister; and Alain Lamassoure, the European Affairs Minister. Mr Longuet, a tough conservative from the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF), was put in overall charge of the international trade talks.

France, under the previous Socialist government and now under the conservatives, refuses to accept the Gatt compromise on agriculture negotiated in Washington last November. Mr Juppe and Mr Lamassoure were instructed to seek 'commercial peace' with the United States, according to a statement from the Gaullist Prime Minister's office.

France's position on Gatt - on which it says it wants a global agreement covering all sectors first - not only angers the US but is a source of friction with Germany, its main European ally, as well as Britain and other European Community states.

Meanwhile, Michel Rocard took over the vestiges of the shattered Socialist Party after ousting Laurent Fabius, the party's first secretary, at the weekend in an operation which he described as 'the defeat of arrogance'.

In what seems to be becoming the trademark of the Balladur government, the Prime Minister held a lunch for the main leaders of the parliamentary majority yesterday. Before the first cabinet meeting last Friday under the chairmanship of President Francois Mitterrand, Mr Balladur had his ministers to lunch to discuss how they would work together. His office has been at pains to say that his informal consultations do not substitute for the cabinet meetings. The first cabinet meeting, at which the government informed Mr Mitterrand of its plans, lasted just 40 minutes.

One of those at yesterday's lunch was former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the leader of the UDF. On Monday, he criticised the government for, among other things, not having enough female ministers. Mr Giscard d'Estaing, who was offered no post in the new administration, said he would watch over it to ensure that it met electoral promises.

A priority for the government is to improve security and bring down crime, a task for Charles Pasqua, the Interior Minister. In the government's first week, police in Paris have swooped on drug dealers and rounded up a number of illegal immigrants.

Mr Pasqua has recruited as an adviser on immigration Jean-Claude Barreau, a former priest and an expert on Islam who was sacked by the Socialist government from a similar position in 1991 for publishing a pamphlet critical of Islam. In an interview with Le Figaro, Mr Barreau said he wanted to reduce the number of immigrants arriving in France annually from 150,000 to 60,000.

(Photograph omitted)