Trade ministers from 107 nations Thursday sought to avert the collapse of world trade talks threatened by a bitter dispute between the United States and the European Community over farm subsidies.
Many officials predicted the talks could either break up in failure, or recess until January in hopes of a calmer atmosphere.A four-year round of talks under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade was slated to end on Friday.
The 12-nation EC was told by the chairman of the GATT talks, Uruguayan Foreign Minister Hector Gros Espiell, to come up with a new proposal on agriculture supports by noon Thursday in hopes of breaking the deadlock.
After an emergency meeting of EC trade and farm ministers on Wednesday night, however, Common Market officials said their offer to reduce farm subsidies by 30 percent remained unchanged.
The United States seeks a 75 percent cut in agriculture supports, including a 90 percent reduction in market-distorting export subsidies.
"We're very near the end of the road, I'm afraid," said a grim-faced U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills, blaming the EC for the impasse.
EC officials said the United States had poisoned the atmosphere at the talks through "megaphone diplomacy."
Many developing countries blamed both the EC and the United States for creating a crisis environment by refusing to compromise.
Following their emergency meeting, EC officials insisted that negotiations covering all matters under the GATT talks - not only agriculture - must proceed together.
The EC has criticized the United States for seeking to exclude shipping, aviation and telecommunications from the GATT agreement on services.
Other unresolved areas in the talks include investment, textiles and intellectual property rights.
"We're rapidly nearing the time where even if the Community made a move there's little time to put it all together into a final package," said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Clayton Yeutter.