Another failure on trade

April 23, 1992

Hopes that the Americans and Europeans would resolve their dispute over farm trade policies and produce a new worldwide system to promote international commerce have been thwarted once again. Yesterday's fruitless meeting between President Bush and Jacques Delors, president of the European Community, condemns this key initiative to more months of inconclusive talk-talk.

There is still a chance -- indeed a mandate -- for an agreement before presidential authority to present a package not subject to congressional amendment expires in June 1993. Otherwise, other nations will have good reason to believe that special interests in Congress could coalesce to tear any conceivable accord apart. But in the meantime, an opportunity to give the lagging global economy a needed boost has been sacrificed to political considerations.

Make no mistake about it: the issues involved in the U.S.-EC dispute are not worth this delay. Only 10 percent of potential world trade is involved in trying to force down the ridiculously high European farm subsidies. Almost 90 percent of complicated arrangements in other fields have been agreed, at least tentatively. But because the French and German governments, especially, lack the gumption to take on a coddled agricultural sector and Mr. Bush is not especially anxious to provoke American protectionists during an election year, politics has triumphed over economics.

This is a sad commentary on the statecraft of the large industrial democracies -- on the countries that are supposed to lead. Rather than resolve their own differences, they seem content to let poor Third World countries dangle and nations released from the Soviet yoke remain excluded from vital access to the free market trade system that has developed under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Japan, having kibitzed on the sidelines, is at last actively promoting an accord because it is worried about recession and a plummeting stock market. But, it is too late.

What is ironic is that the Europeans, the Americans and the Japanese have the most to gain by broadening GATT to cover service industries, agriculture and patent-trademark rights. Chalk up against their governments a collective failure.

Well, maybe next year.

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