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FRANCE AND JAPAN SAY they have granted major concessions to reach a new global trading agreement. Thanks to these breakthroughs, the long-stalled General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade is poised to become a reality. France has O.K.'d eliminating subsidies for its farmers, who complain that their way of life would be endangered as a result. And Japan has agreed to cease protecting its equally sacrosanct agricultural sector by dropping barriers to rice imports.

IN REALITY, these concessions are pretty paltry. The accord calls for a snip in subsidies on 21% of France's agricultural output over six years, with most of the cut delayed until the final year. France could continue existing subsidies on 79% of farm production after the year 2000. As for Japan, it will import a mere 4% of its 10 million metric tons of rice consumption in 1995, increasing that amount to 8% over six years. The pact allows replacement of outright import bans with tariffs that can be just as rigid in practice. So in 2000, Japanese tariffs will take effect if Japan's trading partners make it admit even more imports.EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT AND JULIE TILSNER Douglas Harbrecht

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