GATT Again Goes Splat

April 27, 1992

Australia's Prime Minister Paul Keating had it just about right when he blamed the latest failure in world trade negotiations on "a lack of determination on the part of the Europeans." His comments, coinciding with fruitless discussions between President Bush and Jacques Delors, president of the European Community, also contained a sharp warning: If Europe and North America end up forming regional trading blocs in place of a global framework, Asia would retaliate in kind.

It is this danger that should inject energy rather than lethargy into long-stalled negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The next so-called deadline for a breakthrough is late June, but there have been so many deadlines broken and hopes smashed in the past that there is scant ground for optimism.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Delors tried to put a gloss on their Wednesday meeting, suggesting new ideas had been advanced. But U.S. special trade representative Carla Hills said none of these ideas "hit home."

European negotiators passed the word that they had advocated restraints on U.S. farm exports to match the restraints the Americans are pressing on them. It is true enough that there is protectionism a-plenty on both sides of the Atlantic (and the Pacific for that matter). But the farm subsidy system fostered inside the European Community to placate a noisy agricultural sector is so outrageous and unfair that U.S. restrictions seem almost reasonable. Mountains of surplus European farm products, piled up at great expense to European consumers, now are dumped at below-market prices around the world.

If the Europeans profess an interest in a late-June breakthrough, it is not because of trade but because German Chancellor Helmut Kohl wishes to avoid embarrassment when he presides the following month at an economic summit of the seven leading industrial democracies in Munich. For three years, the Group of Seven has pronounced a trade agreement a top priority. And for three years its words have turned to dust.

Nothing in the Bonn government's behavior should impel Mr. Bush to accommodate Mr. Kohl, who lives in evident fear of rural voters as he approaches a 1994 election. Instead, the president should use the Munich meeting to put heat on the Germans on the supposition that only they can apply sufficient heat to the intransigent, obstructionist French -- Mr. Delors' countrymen.

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