At the Houston economic summit in July, President Bush and the six other leaders of the largest industrial democracies vowed they would make "the difficult political decisions" to push through a new international trade agreement this year. They said they would instruct their representatives "to agree on the complete profile of the final package" at late-July negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
Well, that meeting was held a fortnight later in Geneva, and it was a flop. With only eight working weeks left to meet a December deadline, GATT's Uruguay Round is in such deep trouble that only top-level determination can save it. There is little cause for optimism. The United States and the European Community remain at loggerheads over U.S. efforts to lower farm export subsidies, even though Washington has retreated from its drive to end all subsidies. And if the big powers remain stalled on agriculture, U.S. efforts to extend GATT provisions to service industries and to stop international piracy of copyrights, trademarks and other intellectual property are at risk.
Arthur Dunkel, GATT's director-general, was refreshingly blunt in blaming the present impasse on "the absence of new instructions from a number of capitals" -- capitals, we surmise, that were present in full panoply at Houston. He said further that negotiators were using "linkages" as an excuse for "playing hide-and-seek with each other and not revealing their hand."