Courtesy Reuters

The Ploughshares War between Europe and America

Not for the first time, agricultural trade has become a live and contentious issue in Atlantic relations. Questions of access and protection have been subjects of constant concern to American farmers and traders since the establishment of Europe's Common Agricultural Policy 25 years ago. Now, though, under the pressures of surplus stocks of grain and falling farm incomes, there is a new area of contention-competitive subsidies designed to win or ensure shares in an erratic world market. Months of negotiation have failed to resolve the issue and neither the European Community nor the United States has shown any sign of being ready to sacrifice what both define as legitimate economic interests.

The bilateral relationship between the United States and the European Community has dominated international agricultural trade relations for the last 30 years. European and American attitudes to proposals for the liberalization, regulation or management of key agricultural product markets have determined the role and success of international institutions, and the fate of attempts to reach international agreements on agricultural matters. Domestic policy decisions, taken in Brussels and Washington, have determined not only the state of the world market but have also become important and divisive items on the agenda of trade talks, ministerial meetings, and summits.

The attitudes and policies of the two sides have not remained constant throughout the period; external circumstances as well as the dynamics of the domestic agricultural policies pursued on each side of the Atlantic have shifted the areas of contention. The issues at stake in the current set of bilateral negotiations-initiated after the ministerial meeting of GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) in November 1982 had failed to make any significant progress on agricultural trade matters-are very different from those of a decade or two decades ago.

They are also more serious. Unless those negotiations result in a major shift of policy on one or both sides, along the lines suggested below, even a temporary settlement will leave open the potential for future conflicts-conflicts perhaps

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