Paris queries Gatt 'grey areas'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
FRANCE is asking the European Commission to clarify 'some grey areas' in the Washington Gatt compromise on agriculture, Jean- Pierre Soisson, the Agriculture Minister, said yesterday. Mr Soisson, who has led France's resistance to Gatt, said it had still not seen a full text of last month's Washington accord: 'It's like having commentaries on the Bible without the Bible itself existing.'

Speaking to members of the Anglo-American Press Association of Paris, Mr Soisson said France was sending the Commission a list of questions for clarification. These include asking whether the US threat of retaliatory measures, aimed in part at French white wine imports, if a Gatt accord were not reached did not constitute 'a fundamental limitation to the peace clause', the Gatt mechanism for settling disputes. Mr Soisson said the French approach to the problem in the near future would be to examine the Commission's contention that the Washington compromise was 'compatible' with the reform of the EC's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in May.

France rejected the accord outright and has made it clear that it is prepared to use its right of veto. But the request for clarification seemed to conform with a general softening of official attitudes.

In seeking to avert an EC crisis, however, France still fears a domestic social crisis, as farmers believe that CAP reform will deprive many of them of a livelihood.

Some measure of the potential gravity came at a meeting of the French Agriculture Federation farming union in the town of Laval on Tuesday.

Henri Gaulandeau, the union president, warned members against 'neo-terrorism'. The federation, which says it represents 150,000 farmers, is at loggerheads with the main national farming union, the FNSEA.

Mr Gaulandeau, whose organisation has developed close links with the militant year-old Rural Co-ordination, appealed to members 'to recognise the limits between union and extra-union activity, that is, neo-terrorism', after one delegate said farmers should 'pick up our rifles' to fight for their rights. While few others appeared to agree with this delegate, the episode underscored fears of real violence, especially as poorer farmers go into liquidation. Mr Soisson said that France could only use its EC veto, the 'Luxembourg compromise', if it had a juridical text which other countries were planning to adopt.

It does not appear that any text will go before EC ministers until a global Gatt accord, including all other aspects of trade such as industrial goods and services, is completed. This will probably not occur until after French general elections in March, which the Socialist government is expected to lose.

Mr Soisson said American as well as EC agriculture relied on state subsidies, adding that the US did not impose a 'liberal conception' on farm trade. The US, he said, was trying to regain world market shares which it had lost to France over the past 20 years.

France freezes, page 25