Two senior Bush Administration officials expressed guarded optimism Tuesday that the Uruguay Round of international trade talks, stalled for almost a year, may be headed toward agreement.
In separate comments, U.S. Trade Representative Carla Anderson Hills and Agriculture Secretary Edward R. Madigan said they believe that the 5-year-old talks gained new momentum after President Bush met last weekend with European Community leaders at The Hague.
“We moved the process forward,” Hills said. The trade representative, who was in Seoul, spoke to reporters in Washington via a conference call.
Separately, Madigan told a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization conference in Rome that he is seeing “signs of some movement now” and is “cautiously optimistic.”
The talks--begun in Punta del Este, Uruguay, in 1986--represent the most ambitious effort yet to rewrite the rules that govern world trade. Negotiators hope to expand the post-World War II-era General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade to include a number of increasingly important areas that now fall outside its scope. Among them are agriculture, services and the protection of so-called intellectual property, such as copyrights, patents and trademarks.
Throughout the negotiations, the chief difficulties have arisen over demands by the United States and other agricultural exporters that the Europeans lower the subsidies that they pay to farmers. The non-European agricultural exporters claim that the subsidies give European Community farmers an unfair advantage on world markets.
Though Hills said that the United States is “prepared to negotiate in good faith,” she denied reports that this country has moved away from its demand for slashes in European subsidies by 75% over 10 years in some areas and 90% in others.
“There was no caving at all,” she insisted.
Hills also denied a published report that the Bush Administration was postponing completion of a free-trade agreement with Mexico until after next year’s elections.
On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that White House officials are nervous about the prospects for the agreement after the election victory last week of Sen. Harris Wofford (D-Pa.). Wofford had made a strong argument that the proposed agreement with Mexico would spur the flight of more U.S. jobs across the border.
“The negotiations are going at full speed,” Hills said.
Noting that Bush is already on record supporting the pact, she said: “The content will drive the deadline (for completing the talks). No deadline, not the election or any other deadline, will drive the content. . . . I don’t see this as a political football at all.”
Hill said it is possible the talks will conclude before next year’s election. But, she said, “I wouldn’t bet next year’s salary on it.”