World trade pact seen as more likely Progress is made on market access

June 03, 1993|By Journal of Commerce

PARIS -- Trade ministers from the world's most powerful industrial nations yesterday gave their most upbeat assessment to date on the likelihood of reaching an agreement on market access.

Officials from the United States, Japan, the European Community and Canada described their meeting in the Uruguay Round of global trade talks as a successful step toward an outline agreement on removing barriers to trade in services and in industrial and agricultural goods.

They expressed confidence that the outline would be prepared in time for consideration and approval by heads of state and government at the summit of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations next month in Tokyo.

"We are at least in striking distance of an outline of the largest market-access package in history, which would lead us to a successful Uruguay Round," U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor said.

Sir Leon Brittan, the EC's trade commissioner, said, "In a world where economic gloom is all too prevalent, I believe a ray of hope iscoming from these trade talks."

Differences remain before a deal can be crafted. Any agreement must be approved by the roughly 100 other countries participating in the talks, which are being held under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the international body that governs trade.

In publicizing their optimism, trade officials of the world's richest nations have raised the expectations of a business community hungry for good economic news at a time of sluggish growth and recession in much of the industrial world. Should the ministers fail to deliver a deal in Tokyo, rattled exporters could suffer a further loss of confidence.

"There's no question that these guys are gambling on this," one EC official said. But Mr. Kantor said pressure was intense to reach a deal and sustain the economic recovery in the United States.

"President Clinton made it clear he wants a deal this year, and so, whether we're making progress here -- which we are, by the way -- hasn't put any additional pressure on ourselves," he said.

The progress made in about a dozen meetings over the past month has inspired confidence among trade officials. Still to be resolved, however, are U.S. demands that the EC lift restrictions on the broadcast of U.S. television shows. A U.S. official said Sir Leon told them that the EC resistance had not eased.

Likewise, there was little resolution of the slate of disputes over high tariffs on industrial goods.

The United States told its trading partners that it was not prepared to reduce duties on textiles. But there was "a recognition that this was a key issue for other countries" and that the United States was prepared to be flexible in forthcoming meetings.

U.S. and EC officials said they were pleased with the progress made by Japan in responding to their requests for a liberalization of financial services. Japan offered to remove some of the restrictions faced by foreign companies, including insurance companies.

Although the negotiating gap on tariffs has narrowed in some sectors, including EC duties on wood products, differences remain in others.

Washington remains reluctant to scale down its high import tariffs on ceramic products. Brussels is less than enthusiastic about lowering its duties on electronics, nonferrous metals and paper.

And Japan continues to resist pressure to lift a ban on imported rice.

Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen said any deal in the Uruguay Round remained linked to the EC's commitment to cut farm subsidies. He urged the French government to accept the EC-U.S. pact and said that, even with a reduction in government support, French farmers would remain "secure."

Mr. Bentsen rejected assertions that U.S. companies would suffer if a deal was reached.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry official said Japan found the meeting "useful and constructive." He also expressed optimism that what he called the "biggest and most meaningful" trade package would be put before the Tokyo summit.

An overall GATT agreement, he said, would then be on track for the end of the year.

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