Gatt negotiators head for 'eventual deal'

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The Independent Online
BRUSSELS - There was a whiff of success here yesterday following Washington's new determination to negotiate a Gatt deal by the end of the year and its apparent flexibility on the vexed question of agriculture, writes Sarah Lambert.

Sir Leon Brittan, the EU's chief negotiator, returning to Europe after talks with the US Trade Representative, Mickey Kantor, said: 'I don't want to go into the details but we are discussing agricultural issues in a positive manner.'

A 'pre-accord' on farm trade that will be part of any final Gatt deal is opposed by Paris on the grounds that it was negotiated without its approval and will discriminate against France's politically powerful farmers.

In Paris, where Sir Leon stopped on his way back to Brussels, reaction was less enthusiastic. Noting that Mr Kantor had ruled out reopening the farm-trade deal, diplomats said there was no sign of an acceptable compromise.

A EU official in Brussels said yesterday: 'You must understand there was no specific progress but the two sides have now stopped testing each other. They have finally put their cards on the table and understood what the bottom line is. There are still considerable obstacles but everyone is now talking in the context of an eventual deal.'

With approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Washington can concentrate as never before on a Gatt deal, the deadline for which is 15 December. Mr Kantor wants to come to Brussels on Wednesday, on the eve of a EU foreign ministers' meeting and a visit by the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher. 'The date is no coincidence,' officials said. The hope is that the experts who have stayed behind in Washington for 'non-stop' negotiations this week will have made enough progress to present a first draft of a final deal next Thursday. But success is by no means assured.

Besides agriculture, there are problem sectors - financial services, aeronautics, steel and audiovisual, where, with EU concerns about US 'cultural domination', the US is especially concerned that new technology will be denied access to European markets.

For Europe, the main obstacle remains accommodating French objections to the agricultural pre-accord. Any deal which is reached between the EU and the US will have to be approved by the other Gatt signatories, which is not a foregone conclusion.