Deal urged to avert trade war: Commonwealth agrees to launch a drive to get Gatt agreement

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LEADERS of one-third of the world's countries yesterday decided to send a ministerial delegation to 'key capitals' to press for a successful conclusion of the Gatt trade talks by the end of the year.

The heads of the Commonwealth, grouping rich and poor from most of the Anglophone world, are expected to place Paris at the top of the list of cities for their mission. John Major and four other heads of government emerged from the second day of the Commonwealth summit here to issue a declaration warning of the consequences of a failure of the Uruguay Round. Although it failed to mention France by name as the nation obstructing a solution, Mr Major said: 'It is necessary to make compromises, even compromises that will be nationally painful to some countries.'

The move represents a ganging up of the English-speaking world on President Francois Mitterrand and the French government. Mr Mitterrand failed at a recent summit of his own Francophone grouping to win any substantial support for the French position. British sources said that to drive that point home, the delegation would include ministers from the countries that belong not only to the Commonwealth but also to the Francophone grouping - Mauritius, the Seychelles, Canada and Vanuatu. Commonwealth sources said the capitals to be visited may include Washington, 'to balance things out'.

The leaders said time was running out for the US fast- track negotiating mandate, which ends on 15 December. Paul Keating, the Australian Prime Minister who chaired the session, said: 'There are 55 days only left to the 15 December deadline . . . There has to be some movement on the part of a number of countries.'

Ironically, the announcement was held up by one of the Caribbean leaders worried about the impact of free trade on her banana industry. Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica said her country's entire subsistence was based on bananas, which stand to be pushed out of the markets by the bigger and cheaper Central American banana. This sentiment was echoed publicly by Percival Patterson of Jamaica: 'The terms are just as important as the timing. We are very concerned that developing countries not be overlooked.'

Mr Major said all countries, including those in the Third World, stood to gain from the Round, and that a deal would increase world trade by pounds 300bn a year and 'trade benefits for those countries who receive aid would be greater than the sum total of the aid they receive'.