Gummer hits out at US

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The Independent Online
PROSPECTS of a deal to unblock the Uruguay Round of international trade talks receded yesterday after a sharp attack on the United States by John Gummer, the Minister of Agriculture.

Mr Gummer said yesterday that the negotiations between Europe and the US on farm subsidies that reached a climax this week 'have been bedevilled by a hectoring approach from the United States, constantly demanding that Europe does things and failing to do them themselves'.

The minister's comments, delivered after a speech in Brussels on the reform of the European Community subsidies paid to farmers, are likely to give succour to the French government, which has argued vociferously over recent days against further European concessions in the talks.

Mr Gummer, after warning that 'these are tough negotiations, which both sides are pursuing very toughly indeed', said: 'I'm entirely in favour of achieving a solution, but it ought to be a solution the French can find it possible to live with.'

Germany and other EC countries are expected to press France at tomorrow's Birmingham summit to take a more conciliatory line over farm trade. Some EC members believe that if they can compromise with Washington on agricultural subsidies, a wider trade deal between 108 countries in different economic sectors may swiftly be reached.

Economists have estimated that a new deal under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade would add dollars 200bn ( pounds 114bn) to world trade, and would add a percentage point to Britain's growth rate in each of the coming five years.

But diplomats from other countries fear that nothing of significance will come of the Birmingham summit. One ambassador said yesterday that the best that can be hoped is that the EC heads of state refrain from vetoing any future deal.

In theory, trade policy is subject to majority voting in the Council of Ministers; in practice, diplomats and analysts believe that France's partners will allow it to veto any deal presented by the European Commission on grounds of its own vital national interest.

As chairman of the agriculture council, Mr Gummer can press his colleagues to a vote. But he said: 'I don't like the concept of pushing . . . That's not the way we do business.' He also bemoaned the fact that in the EC, haggling has to be done in public before a common position can be reached. 'Then those you're negotiating with know exactly what you're trying to do.'

The minister said that 'some people in France' are trying to make any Gatt deal look like a concession on the part of the French government. He said that the job of France's partners is to help present any deal as one struck from strength, not weakness.