Trade ministers of the nine-member European Economic Community, meeting today to discuss the European position for the closing phase of the Tokyo Round trade talks, hardened their demands for bigger concessions from their major trade partners, in particular the United States.
The European ministerial meeting, which had before it an EEC report highlighting EEC-U.S. conflicts over industrial and agricultural trade, instructed Common Market negotiators "to pursue further a satisfactory conclusion to the negotiations" being held in Geneva. Ministers noted that "the results reached so far are not yet balanced in all areas," and told negotiators to report back to them next week.
Many observers here feel that the next few days in Geneva, which will be the scene of intensive talks among American, European and Japanese negotiators, will be critical for keeping the Tokoyo Round on course for a year-end conclusion to the negotiating phase of the multilateral trade negotiations.
But an added anxiety for the EEC, which was confirmed at today's meeting, is the continued reluctance of France to allow its EEC partners to publicly commit itself to a target date for conclusion of the trade talks before the U.S. president's authority to waive countervailing duties is formally approved by the U.S. Congress.
Nevertheless EEC countries, at least on today's showing, appear united in their dissatisfaction with the American trade offer. Particular concern was expressed here at recent cut-backs in proposed U.S. concessions on textiles and steel imports.
The United Kingdom and Ireland both expressed strong criticism of the impact on their export potential of the more restricted American position reported to the EEC on Nov. 30.
Meanwhile, the Italian representative to today's meeting appears to have voiced strong opposition to yielding to demands formulated by chief U.S. negotiator Robert Strauss, which call for increased access to European markets for American agricultural produce. Italy, Europe's fruit and vegetable garden, aganist concessions on items like citrus and canned fruits.
However, there appears to be better news emerging for American tobacco exporters. Finn Olav Gundelach, the EEC's top agriculture aide, apparently argued persuasively that some downward adjustment should be made in European protection aganist import of tobacco, including Virginia and flue-curedm from the U.S. Italy, he is understood to have said, might obtain some compensation for any potential prejuice to its domestic tobacco industry.
Overall, the major outstanding anxiety left by the meeting here today is the uncertainty as to whether France will allow the talks to reach an "outline agreement" by year-end. Ministers were warned by Wilhelm Haferkamp, the EEC's chief trade negotiator, that the emerging Tokyo round "package" could dissolve if the talks were not wrapped up in 1978, said conference sources.
Progress in the trade talks is certain to be key issue in talks to be held in Washington Thursday between President Carter and Roy Jenkins, president of the EEC's Executive Commission.