France demanded Monday that the European Community and the United States rewrite a farm subsidy agreement considered vital to concluding world trade talks.
France’s hard-line position risked creating a deep rift among its EC partners. Most have opposed altering the transatlantic deal and further delaying the end of global trade talks.
British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd warned that reopening the accord could endanger the 116-nation Uruguay Round negotiations, which are designed to drop global barriers to trade.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told a special session of ministers of the 12-nation trading bloc he wanted them to order EC trade negotiators to redo the deal struck with Washington last November.
“What we want is for the community to state clearly what its positions are,” and tell the negotiators to “resume the discussion” with the Americans, a spokesman quoted Juppe as saying.
In the late evening, France offered a detailed list of its demands, and it was flatly rejected by Sir Leon Brittan, the community’s chief trade negotiator.
Juppe reacted angrily to Brittan’s refusal to accept the statement, and the ministers briefly broke off the talks to allow for a cooling down, according to French officials.
The present agreement would slash subsidized farm exports. France contends it would unfairly hurt its farmers, a 1-million-strong constituency that has mounted sometimes violent demonstrations against the accord.
In Paris on Monday, angry farmers protested possible cuts in subsidies by burning Ronald McDonald in effigy, blocking transportation and massing outside government buildings.
The talks are held under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. GATT chief Peter Sutherland has set a deadline of Dec. 15 for the long-delayed negotiations.
Hurd also said a collapse of the global talks could provoke a crisis within the EC, already suffering from economic recession and upheavals in member nations’ currencies.
“I cannot conceive of how the EC could continue with a normal transaction of business if the EC is seen as having caused the collapse of the Uruguay Round,” Hurd’s spokesman quoted him as saying.
His remarks were in line with reports that British Prime Minister John Major had threatened that his government would refuse to cooperate with certain EC initiatives unless France backed down.
Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jacques Poos, also raised the specter of a community breakdown. “This is very serious,” he said. “It’s not a crisis today, but it could be a crisis.”
The ministers sought a compromise that would avoid reopening the negotiations with the United States but would meet some French concerns.
But it was unclear how the United States would respond to a request for even a minor modification of the accord. So far, American officials have refused to return to the bargaining table.
Belgium, which holds the community’s rotating presidency, drew up a draft statement Monday evening that called for EC negotiators to continue their discussions with the United States in an effort to find “the clarifications and the necessary additions” to the agreement.
Several ministers said on entering the meeting that they would like to see minor changes in the U.S.-EC agreement.
Ireland, Spain and a few other EC countries have expressed concern about the impact of the reductions on their farmers.
France has counted on German support for its request. The French-German partnership is at the hub of European unity.
German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said Germany does not wish to renegotiate the farm accord. But he added, “An attempt must be made to meet the concerns of our French friends.”
French President Francois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl met Monday in Paris, with the issue high on the agenda.