Trade Talks Will Open Amid Air of Pessimism


As representatives of 107 nations arrived here Sunday to begin the final meetings in four years of ambitious talks aimed at breaking down international trade barriers, agreement remained well out of reach.

Over the weekend, delegates held a flurry of behind-the-scenes discussions in advance of the official start of the talks today. Also on hand were a number of U.S. lawmakers and representatives of virtually every industry.

U.S. Trade Representative Carla A. Hills told reporters that she sees no signs of a breakthrough in agriculture, the single most difficult area to resolve.

The talks began in 1986 in Punta del Este, Uruguay, as an effort to revamp the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, an international arrangement that was becoming frayed under mounting pressures for protectionism. A major goal of current negotiations is to expand the limits of the 43-year-old GATT accord to cover a host of businesses and issues that have become vital to worldwide trade in recent years.


The United States has encountered stiff resistance from the 12-nation European Community over the U.S. demand for sharp cuts in worldwide agricultural subsidies. American farmers say that heavy subsidies have allowed European farmers to capture much of the world market, despite the fact that they are less efficient in many ways than their U.S. counterparts.

Just as important, opening up trade in agriculture is crucial to drawing developing countries into the ultimate agreement.

The United States hopes to win concessions from these countries that would allow U.S. services--such businesses as airlines and shipping, insurance, banks and entertainment--more access to their markets.

The United States also wants greater protection for copyrights and trademarks. Officials estimate that U.S. firms lose $60 billion a year to overseas firms that sell copycat versions of American products.


Many of the countries resisting agreement in these areas are part of the heavily indebted developing world. Without opportunities to strengthen their economies by selling more of their farm products worldwide, they will have little incentive to agree to other parts of the deal.

“Negotiations in all areas have been badly affected by agriculture,” Hills said. “We are at a stalemate.”

However, EC Trade Commissioner Frans Andriessen countered: “The whole world is asking the European Community to make concessions in agriculture. . . . What is the world prepared to give in return?”

Success in concluding an international trade accord here could mean a huge bonanza of more than $4 trillion to the world economy over the next decade, according to Hills.


“It is beyond my comprehension that the civilized nations of the world could duck this opportunity (of) an economic renaissance that could last well into the 21st Century,” she said.

Whether the negotiations will reach their ambitious goals or fall apart should become clear in the next few days. “The fever is higher,” said U.S. Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.), who is part of the official congressional delegation. “I don’t know if that’s because it’s about to break or the patient is about to die.”

Arthur Dunkel, director of the Geneva-based GATT, added: “Negotiators have to get out of this crisis in the first hours and days” of the final week of talks.

The sessions are officially scheduled to end Friday, although many believe they may continue a few days longer.