France stays firm on Gatt

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The Independent Online
PARIS - France's conservative government yesterday underlined its rejection of the Gatt Washington compromise on agriculture, threatening a crisis within the European Community, writes Julian Nundy.

Edouard Balladur, the Gaullist Prime Minister, making his first comprehensive statement on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt) talks since he took office six weeks ago, made plain that the government's policy differed little in its basics from that of its Socialist predecessor, which also rejected the November accord.

An indication of new French policy had been eagerly awaited by the EC, with some hoping that conservative intransigence was merely an electoral stance that would soften once the right took power. Mr Balladur, flanked at a news conference by the ministers involved in the trade talks, addressed this directly, saying that it was wrong to believe that 'the French position is based only on electoral considerations'.

In the talks leading to the agriculture compromise, France and all other EC states were represented by the European Commission. Mr Balladur did not say how far France was prepared to go, but the Socialist government hinted strongly that it was prepared to use its veto, and trigger an EC crisis, to torpedo the agreement. Mr Balladur's tone gave little reason to believe that the new government was more amenable.

The Prime Minister said France had sent a memorandum to its EC partners, outlining Paris' opposition to the Gatt agreement, just one element in the talks between 114 nations on all aspects of world trade, and suggesting ways of getting negotiations moving. The document described the agreement on oilseeds as 'unacceptable in its present form'.

Mr Balladur said France's 'aim is to unblock the negotiations' but he did not explain how. Gerard Longuet, the Trade and Industry Minister, added: 'What is profoundly new is the desire to break with isolation and abandon a strategy of all or nothing.'

Original French opposition to Gatt last autumn nearly led to US reprisals against French products, particularly white wine.

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