European Community governments battled their way out of crisis Tuesday with a hard-won compromise on a U.S.-EC farm deal seen as key to a global trade settlement, but the bloc’s trade woes are far from over.
U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor flatly refused to renegotiate the so-called Blair House accord at the heart of the dispute. France, with equal firmness, rejected the U.S.-EC agreement on cutting farm subsidies.
“We will not reopen the Blair House agreement either directly or indirectly. Interpretation or clarification of Blair House cannot be a guise for modifying the terms of the agreement,” Kantor said in a statement in Washington.
“The Blair House agreement, reached nearly 10 months ago, reflected a difficult compromise which the United States accepted in its entirety,” he said.
EC farm, foreign and trade ministers struck their compromise after a 12-hour crisis meeting, agreeing to a plan to meet France’s political objections to Blair House while avoiding reopening the whole deal.
The compromise, stressing a need for the EC to retain its position in the world agricultural products market, called for continued talks with Washington to seek a world farm accord.
It offered France some political protection from its powerful farmers lobby, but an EC source warned against expecting the EC’s trade negotiator, Sir Leon Brittan, to obtain solid results at a meeting with Kantor in Washington on Monday.
EC Farm Commissioner Rene Steichen told reporters in Brussels that Kantor’s remarks were not unexpected, adding that they “could have been made for tactical purposes.”
“The commission has always maintained that there will not be any renegotiation of Blair House, but it is seeking clarification with the United States,” Steichen said.
French Farm Minister Jean Puech described Kantor’s statement as “unbelievable” and called for a rapid reaction from the EC if Brittan runs into difficulties.
“France does not want to find itself in a position where it has either to accept or reject everything,” he said in a thinly veiled reference to earlier French threats to veto a global General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade deal unless it got satisfaction on Blair House.
Other EC states were pleased that the compromise had fended off French calls to renegotiate Blair House.
“The decisive point is that the result was not to have the European Commission renegotiate the Blair House agreement,” German Economics Minister Guenter Rexrodt told German radio.
Belgian Foreign Minister Willy Claes, representing the EC’s current presidency, said the compromise will strengthen the GATT world trade talks.
“The big advantage of this agreement is that finally we have the opportunity to oblige all the other partners to put their cards on the table,” Claes told Belgian radio.
“Until now, they could always hide behind the (fact that the) EC could not agree. . . . Now they cannot do that any longer.”
In Paris, French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur said the EC compromise “met the objectives set for the French negotiators.”
“But everything has not been solved,” Balladur added. “Many problems remain in the agricultural domain, as in other fields, which must be discussed bilaterally and multilaterally.”
GATT director general Peter Sutherland has set Dec. 15 as the final deadline for ending over seven years of world trade talks.