Blunt Message on Trade

February 11, 1992

If European leaders need to be jolted to abandon the protectionist farm policies that are blocking a new world trade agreement -- and we think they need a thunderbolt! -- then Vice President Dan Quayle and some highly placed U.S. legislators were wise to apply the electricity over the weekend.

Mr. Quayle's message was both blunt and circumspect. "Trade," he said, "is a security issue." The completion of a new pact broadening world trade rules to include agriculture, service industries and intellectual property, he warned, is "absolutely critical -- critical to the security of Europe [and] to the security of the U.S."

The vice president left it to Senators Richard Lugar and William Cohen plus House Armed Services Committee chairman Les Aspin to make the harsher point that if Americans come to regard the Europeans as hostile trade competitors the clamor of isolationism will grow louder amid demands for drastic U.S. troop withdrawals from NATO.

This was a message Europeans found displeasing. Dutch Foreign Minister Hans den Broek commented that "it does not work to say we better agree on GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade negotiations) or America will leave NATO." "That's not," he added, "how friends talk to one another."

In our view, that is precisely how friends should talk to one another. For six years, GATT talks have run aground on the refusal of European leaders to take on a pampered, highly subsidized farming sector that exerts much more political clout than its numbers warrant. The result has been one delay after another, despite repeated summit declarations of lofty intent, until today GATT is approaching what may be a final showdown with the whole European security situation in flux.

U.S. legislators were merely reflecting political reality when they said pressure to bring U.S. troop levels far below the 150,000-mark set by the Bush administration could become irresistible if protectionism is unleashed. Even NATO secretary general Manfred Woerner, a German, chimed in to say that without a GATT agreement "we risk a profound crisis in the trans-Atlantic alliance."

The interplay of trade and security matters aired in Munich came nine weeks before an Easter deadline for conclusion of the 109-nation world trade talks. The date is important because if a treaty is not submitted soon to Congress there is little likelihood it will be approved before election-year politics intrudes. Many observers believe a draft treaty drawn up by GATT director general Arthur Dunkel is so favorable to the United States it can pass despite opposition from special interests.

But first German Chancellor Helmut Kohl has to put enough pressure on French President Francois Mitterrand to permit a treaty to be signed. Mr. Kohl's sorry performance to date was reason enough for the American lawmakers to speak out.

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