Stand Firm On Gatt And Bring On The Trade

On Feb. 21, just when the news from the gulf was at its most absorbing, the Europeans made a concession that with luck could help ensure that international trade, the most dynamic element in the world economy, will continue to grow fast in the coming decade. Fighting among themselves over the skyrocketing costs of agricultural supports, the Europeans for the first time opened the door a tiny crack toward negotiating on their fortress-like agricultural system.

The EC offered to bargain in three key areas: domestic farm-price supports, export subsidies, and import curbs. The Administration must stick to its demand for relaxation of each of these EC restraints--on the sound principle that no GATT agreement is better than a bad one. But if the EC now bargains seriously, it will lower barriers to U. S. farm products. U. S. industry will benefit, too, because countries such as Brazil and Argentina are demanding freer agricultural trade as a quid pro quo for their agreement to liberalize trade in services and safeguard intellectual property rights--two key areas for U. S. exporters and investors.

There is no way to be sure meaningful progress can be made, but it is heartening that the EC has agreed to bargain. Lobbyists for sheltered U. S. industries, from textiles to steel, sighed with relief when the 97-nation talks to liberalize global trade collapsed in Brussels on Dec. 8. But the U. S. must be for fair competition. Washington should keep pushing for cutbacks in trade barriers under the General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade. Congress, for its part, should grant the Administration's request for extension of its negotiating authority under a "fast track" procedure assuring quick action by lawmakers on a new GATT agreement.