Trade talks snagged by movie issue

December 07, 1993|By New York Times News Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The United States and the European Community struggled last night to bridge differences that are holding up a world trade agreement, now divided mainly by a bitter dispute over access for American movies and television programs in the European market.

Despite more than 15 hours of talks between the U.S. trade representative, Mickey Kantor, and the European Community's chief negotiator, Sir Leon Brittan, officials on both sides reported little progress.

"What we have up to now is unacceptable," the French foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said. "We have scarcely made headway."

The community's foreign ministers postponed a meeting that had been scheduled for yesterday to review and outline an agreement on trade issues that had been framed last week. Instead, they decided to meet today, after the talks between Mr. Kantor and Mr. Brittan, which were expected to continue into the morning hours.

"We hope that discussions through the night will bring some progress," Mr. Juppe said. "At the moment we cannot accept the position of the American side."

A trade agreement between the United States and the European Community is an essential prelude for completion of long-stalled world trade talks under the General Agreement on Tariffs on Trade, which began seven years ago in Uruguay and now face a Dec. 15 deadline agreed to by all sides.

If there is no accord by then, the attempt to update and broaden world trade rules, and so encourage international commerce, will be badly set back, perhaps abandoned for now.

What is more, President Clinton's special trade negotiating authority will expire and the administration would have to ask Congress next year for an extension, something that could be politically difficult after the bruising fight over the North American Free Trade Agreement.

A failure also would dent world economic confidence and place new strains on an Atlantic alliance still seeking a new purpose with the end of the cold war.

The difficulties in yesterday's s talks stemmed from the complex variety of issues being confronted with little time. Although the outline of an agreement has been reached on what had long been the most contentious issue, agricultural trade, neither side was prepared to ratify that yesterday while other questions still hung in the balance.

"Nobody wants to lose any negotiating leverage," a community official said. "There will be an agreement on everything or on nothing."

On farm-export issues, Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy emerged beaming from a meeting yesterday with the community's farm commissioner, Rene Steichen, and said his expression reflected the progress in the talks.

Community officials said the outline of a farm accord -- under which the Europeans would cut back their subsidized food and grain exports more slowly than previously agreed to, while the United States would gain improved access to the European market for a range of agricultural and industrial goods -- had now relegated these issues to a secondary place in the negotiations.

"There is a farm agreement," Mr. Steichen said, "but it is a question of getting an overall agreement that is now a difficult task."

French officials contested this view, saying that Prime Minister Edouard Balladur's government wanted further concessions on farm trade. But it seemed clear that whatever differences remained on this issue were narrow.

At the forefront of the talks, a battle raged over demands by the American movie and entertainment industries.

A European delegate said the two sides had been negotiating solidly since Saturday in Geneva on this matter, and "neither side has budged an inch."

Mr. Kantor, who knows the American film industry intimately from his days as a lawyer representing the business, wants all European restrictions on American television programs removed and assurances that American technologies now being developed will not be held back by European restrictions.

"If the audio-visual question is not settled to our satisfaction, there will be no GATT agreement," said Stuart E. Eizenstat, the U.S. representative to the EC.

American entertainment products are the nation's second largest export area, behind aerospace.

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