Let the Blame Games Begin

The European Commission is blaming the U.S. for the apathetic agenda of the upcoming Seattle WTO Ministerial. Our columnist points out that opposition to free trade is just as strong in Europe as it is in the U.S.
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The sniping has begun.

This week, the

European Commission

blamed the less-than-ambitious agenda for the

Seattle World Trade Organization Ministerial

, the round of global trade negotiations that begins in November, on waning public support for trade -- in the U.S.

That opinion was contained in a "confidential" report, by Pascal Lamy, EU trade commissioner, leaked to

The Financial Times

. "The traditional consensus for liberal trade has vanished in the U.S., and instead, domestic politics and a vociferous NGO

nongovernmental organization lobby is forcing the administration to take a conservative, even negative line on further negotiations," the report was quoted as saying. These pressures might keep the U.S. from supporting a "truly comprehensive round," reports of the report said.

One thing is certain: This report was meant to be as confidential as the Sunday edition of

The New York Times

. It was intended to position Europe as the true defender of free trade and the global-trading system. The U.S., readers were meant to believe, is the obstacle even though the U.S. proposal for coverage topics -- agricultural subsidies, liberalization of services, tariff reductions, a moratorium on taxation of global Internet commerce and new initiatives on labor and environment -- is pretty comprehensive.

To be sure, domestic politics in the U.S.

has

made the next round of global trade negotiations more difficult. The opponents of trade in this country, from

Pat Buchanan

to

Ralph Nader

to the

Ruckus Society

are loud and vociferous -- and well organized.

However, domestic opposition to trade is certainly also prevalent in Europe, particularly in France. Since August there have been almost daily protests at Parisian

McDonalds

and marches by French farmers against U.S. agricultural products. The protests stem from high U.S. tariffs on some European food products following a WTO ruling that the EU ban on U.S. beef raised with growth hormones was illegal under the organization's rules. But the protests have widened in scope to include the "Americanization" of the world, and the leaders of the protests have become folk heroes in France.

The ire of French farmers isn't limited to the Americans and has recently included the British. The EU's ban on British beef, imposed after the mad-cow-disease scare, was lifted in August. But the French have still refused to allow British beef in. This week British farmers retaliated by preventing French imports of beef to enter the country at a dock in Poole, England.

The French claim they have not received enough assurances that British beef is safe. The real story, however, seems to be that the French government is trying to help its farmers who have seen sales of all beef drop after the mad-cow-disease scare. Health may be the fig leaf, but this looks like a garden-variety example of protectionism.

Meanwhile, the French have also made it clear they will resist any effort to make it easier to sell films, television programs, etc. in France. President

Jacques Chirac

recently said that France would not "consider cultural products like ordinary goods, subject solely to the law of the market."

Have no doubt: Protectionist pressures are just as much a problem in the EU as they are the U.S. And it is the pressures in the EU, not the U.S., that will make an agreement over agricultural subsidies and services (which include cultural products) very difficult to achieve.

Lamy is right about one thing: the next round should be comprehensive. Progress toward that end may occur next week, when Clinton is scheduled to meet with EU President

Romano Prodi

. Both sides are going to have to bend. The EU should recognize that most of the rest of the world is in general agreement that the next round should include a discussion of agricultural subsidies. The U.S. should be willing to compromise on what the rest of the world wants to discuss (and why Lamy says the U.S. does not support a "truly comprehensive round") -- our dumping laws.

This episode, besides revealing the hypocrisy -- and chutzpah -- on the part of the EU, also demonstrates the level of acrimony between the U.S. and the EU on trade matters. The EU and the U.S., the two largest economic powerhouses in the world, should be working together on the agenda for the next round, not playing the blame game.

David Kurapka wrote speeches for Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin from 1996 until 1999. Before that, he was U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor's speechwriter from 1993 to 1996. Kurapka writes from Oakland, Calif., to which he is glad to have returned.