U.S. Agriculture Secretary Richard E. Lyng claimed Wednesday that France's refusal to include agricultural subsidies on the agenda for upcoming world trade talks could undermine the session.
"That would be catastrophic," Lyng told reporters on the third day of a weeklong meeting among delegates of the 92-nation General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The meeting is intended to set guidelines for a new round of GATT trade talks to begin next year in Geneva.
The United States has been pressing for a gradual reduction and eventual elimination of farm subsidies and wants to include a proposal to that effect on the agenda for the Geneva round.
Many other major agricultural exporting countries also favor liberalization of trade in farm products.
"There's a lot of frustration. We've got a situation where there's a crying need to get into a negotiation on agriculture," Lyng said. He said France was the only country opposed to putting the issue on the agenda, adding, "I find that incredible."
French Trade Minister Michel Noir said Tuesday that unless the U.S.-backed proposal for reducing agricultural subsidies was modified, his country might not participate in a new trade round. The United States has said it may not participate if the issue is left off the agenda.
Lyng said the United States was willing to consider any French proposal, but he added, "they've never come back with anything."
He reiterated that the U.S. delegation will leave this South Atlantic resort Saturday even if no agreement is reached.
But Paul Channon, the British secretary of state for industry and trade and is spokesman for the 12-member Common Market, urged the U.S. delegation to be patient.
"All conferences go through a moment of crisis," he said. "I'm sure the United States will take its usual sensible position."
No progress was reported on proposals that barriers be removed to trade in services such as banking and insurance.
India and Brazil, fearful that their fledgling service industries could not compete with those of wealthy nations, so far have blocked putting such proposals on the agenda for the Geneva round.