Just mention the subject of international trade talks, and the average American almost automatically starts to fall asleep.

But it's time to sit up and start paying attention in view of the increasing possibility that the four-year Uruguay Round of international trade negotiations may collapse.The consequences of a collapse could be devastating. One of the first victims would be efforts to unify the economies of the European Common Market Countries by 1993. The collapse of that effort would also shoot down prospects for turning a more economically united Europe into a more politically united Europe.

Moreover, the collapse of the Uruguay Round, which faces a Dec. 3 deadline for producing an agreement, could reverse the liberalization of international trade and bring on a retreat into increasing protectionism.

Down that road would be higher prices for consumers throughout the industrialized West, including Americans.

The problem, though, is not the looming deadline but the lack of stiff political backbones in Europe, particularly Germany and France. Leaders there are reluctant to take the politically unpopular but economically necessary step of weaning their farmers from subsidies that cost European taxpayers $100 billion a year but enable 11 million European farmers to dump their products on foreign markets at artificially low prices.

For its part, Washington cannot stand idly by while American farmers lose their share of global prosperity because of indefensible subsidies and unfair trade barriers.

At the same time, it's unconscionable for European leaders to let 15 other trade and administrative reforms worked out at the Uruguay Round be held hostage to the dispute over agriculture.

The Europeans benefit greatly from more liberal trade rules on manufactured products; ultimately, they would benefit from free trade in farm products, too.

Washington has relaxed its initial demands that eventually sought total elimination of trade barriers and subsidies for agriculture. Now it's time for Europe to start showing greater flexibility, too.