Farm Subsidies Peril GATT Talks : Trade: Police use tear gas and water cannon to break up violent protests by farmers in Brussels.
The final round of the most ambitious free trade talks ever attempted opened on a pessimistic note today, bogged down by a transatlantic dispute over farm subsidies and heckled in the streets by farmers worried about falling income.
Paramilitary police fired tear gas and used water cannon to control about 30,000 mainly European farmers who tore out trees and traffic signs and burned tires to protest the GATT talks.
Their anger was aimed at proposals to cut agricultural subsidies--the focus of a dispute between the European Community and the United States and its allies that is delaying adoption of a major plan to free commerce for the next century.
The head of the world trade body, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, told ministers that they had spent four years negotiating the 107-nation so-called Uruguay Round of trade talks and had only one week to achieve results.
“This leaves us with no option but to negotiate, negotiate and negotiate and waste no time in political shadow boxing or mutual recrimination,” GATT Director General Arthur Dunkel said.
“The fate of the round hangs in the balance,” U.S. Trade Representative Carla Anderson Hills said. “This is the final--I repeat--the final week of the Uruguay Round. There will be no extension. The time for rhetoric has passed.”
Hills warned of a new slide toward protectionism and political instability if the talks fail.
The United States and the 14-nation Cairns Group of farm exporters want 75% to 90% cuts on subsidies and import barriers on agricultural products.
The EC has offered to cut internal support by 30% from 1986 levels but refuses to commit itself to explicit cuts in export subsidies or to better access to its market, saying these would flow from its offer.
Other issues in the talks--ending textile quotas, strengthening laws against piracy of patents and copyrights, and writing rules for trade in services--have been held up by the impasse on farm supports.
EC ministers discussed the farm issue Sunday night before the talks opened, but did not appear to give EC Farm Commissioner Ray MacSharry any more room to negotiate.
“The only flexibility I have is to explain in detail the impact which reductions in internal support will have on export subsidies and market access,” MacSharry said as he entered the opening of the Uruguay Round meeting.
U.S. Undersecretary for Agriculture Richard Crowder said: “We understand their position. We don’t need it explained. We need some movement.”