Hopes lifted for world trade talks France accepts part of agricultural pact

June 09, 1993|By New York Times News Service

PARIS -- France yesterday accepted part of an agricultural agreement between Europe and the United States that it had vowed to veto, opening the way for progress in broader, and long-stalled, world trade talks.

At a meeting of European Community foreign ministers in Luxembourg, the recently installed center-right government of Prime Minister Edouard Balladur said it would drop its objection to a major point in the deal reached in Washington in November.

That agreement reduced production in European Community countries of oilseed crops like soybeans, which make up much of world agriculture and are used in vegetable oils and animal feed. The United States has complained for years that it is losing its share of world markets to subsidized oilseed products from European growers.

"We gave our accord on the oilseeds," the French minister for European affairs, Alain Lamassoure, said yesterday.

The agreement by Paris marked a reversal of the new government's position. Last month, Mr. Balladur had said that anyone wishing to press France into rapid action on trade talks would be disappointed.

Still, the French change of heart was only partial. The government maintained its reservations on another aspect of the November accord, which calls for a 21 percent reduction in the tonnage of subsidized European grain exports over six years.

Mr. Lamassoure said this would be discussed in the broad trade talks being held under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. France is seeking concessions in other areas, including wider access to American markets for its banks, in exchange for agreement to all aspects of an eventual GATT farm accord.

Diplomats said France's main European partner, Germany, had pressed the Balladur government to end its obstruction of trade talks.

With European economies deep in recession, Bonn believes that a breakthrough in the 6-year-old tariff talks -- known as the Uruguay Round -- is vital to reviving business in Western and Central Europe.

In addition, France last month secured an agreement from the community, increasing by 30 percent the amount of money paid to farmers who are required to take 15 percent or more of their land out of production. At the time, French Agriculture Minister Jean Puech said the deal would allow France to adopt "a more open attitude in international talks."

Under the agreement in November with the United States, the European Community said it would take 15 percent of land used for oilseed crops out of production the first year and at least 10 percent permanently.

Yesterday, French farmers objected to the change of position. The National Center of Young Farmers called the decision "a serious strategic error." The Socialists, who governed France last November and signed the Washington agreement, said France had surrendered to the United States. The party is now the chief opposition group in Parliament.

Although the French farm lobby is influential, it appeared the Balladur government had decided to try to make progress in the broader GATT talks before the meeting next month in Tokyo of leaders of the world's seven major industrial nations.

Other European leaders welcomed the French move. British Prime Minister John Major said the decision "removes one of the roadblocks toward moving to a comprehensive GATT agreement."

There have been many similar, and ultimately unfounded, expressions of optimism about the GATT talks in the past. But for the moment, there appears to be new political will on both sides of the Atlantic and in Japan to seek compromise.

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