Jan 29, 1993



Brussels, Jan 19 (IPS/Alecia McKenzie) -- If agreement on key international trading issues is not reached by March 2 the crucial Uruguay Round trade talks could "unravel", said Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Gareth Evans.

Evans was in Brussels to meet with European Commissioners Sir Leon Brittan and Hans Van Den Broek, who are respectively in charge of external trade and foreign affairs. Both are keeping a close eye on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) talks.

Evans said that both Australia and the European Community feared the Uruguay Round could drag on for another year or more, especially with United States President George Bush now leaving office. The Round began in 1986 and its major stumbling block has been disputes about agricultural subsidies.

"Everything now depends on how president-elect Bill Clinton picks up the reins and that's an unknown quantity at the moment," Evans said, adding "We're disappointed that it did not prove possible to conclude the key agreements before the inauguration." Evans said that while the talks may not collapse completely, there was a real possibility of a "rock slide, with undermining and erosion" of the gains already made.

"There's still the theoretical possibility that the world may break up into trading blocs, and we have to guard against that," he added. "It's not something you can close the book on."

Evans said there had been many previous deadlines which had been broken but that March 2 was the "real deadline" because of the expiry date of current US fast-track authority legislation for trade agreements.

"But," said Evans, "one can't make easy assumptions with a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress."

Although Australia and the US have mostly been in the same corner in the agricultural-subsidy battle with the EC, the Pacific nation currently has a trade dispute with the US over the latter's selling of subsidised wheat to Pakistan.

Evans said that no matter the country of origin, Australia has a "standard complaint against subsidised exports."

In an unrelated speech, Australia's position on the importance of a quick accord was supported by European Commissioner Brittan, who reiterated the importance of the Mar. 2 deadline and said that he wanted to meet with Clinton's USTR Mickey Kantor as soon as possible to discuss strategy for concluding the talks.

(Kantor, in confirmation hearings before the Senate had expressed concerns about the US-EC farm agreement (of November 18), but Brittan said in Brussels (though in the context apparently of the French opposition) that there was no possibility of reopening that deal. Kantor in his testimony also gave support for the renewal of the Super 301 in the US Trade Act to force open and enable the US to retaliate against countries which it considers guilty of "unfair trading".)

"We have not reached an agreement, but we have not wasted our efforts. We have injected new urgency into the process and have prepared the ground for a quick spurt to a successful conclusion".