In a harshly worded warning to Europe’s political leaders, the world’s top trade official said Wednesday that bickering over farm subsidies in the European Community threatens to undermine talks for a worldwide trade accord.
Peter Sutherland, director general of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, said complaints about the “Blair House agreement” on subsidized European farm exports “continues to bedevil” negotiations as the deadline for a global accord nears.
The controversial agreement, regarded in the United States as an essential prerequisite to a new trade pact, was reached in November in Washington. Among other things, it would resolve differences between Europe and America over subsidized agricultural exports, a politically explosive issue in many European countries and one that has long divided Europeans themselves.
Under pressure from farmers, French officials have demanded a renegotiation of the agreement. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl last week indicated for the first time that he also had “enormous problems” with the accord’s farm provisions.
Ministers from the 12 EC nations are expected to consider the matter at a special session in Brussels on Sept. 20.
After meeting with Kohl on Wednesday, Sutherland said at a news conference that tinkering with the hard-fought Blair House provisions is “not an option” if Europeans are serious about reaching a trade accord. The Uruguay Round of the GATT talks would liberalize trade among more than 100 nations, including many in the Third World and the former communist bloc.
Sutherland said negotiators in Geneva still have important issues to work out but have been hampered by uncertainty over European farm subsidies. He predicted that an end to the farm debate would provide “the final momentum” to conclude the negotiations, which have dragged on for seven years and face a deadline of Dec. 15.