FRENCH LEADERS can be refreshingly direct. President Jacques Chirac recently proclaimed that the European Union's position in the Doha round of global trade negotiations is to not negotiate: Referring to Europe's protectionist farm subsidies, he declared that "it is absolutely out of the question to introduce any more flexibility." Further, Mr. Chirac announced that if the E.U. trade representative made the mistake of securing a trade deal, France (a scourge of American unilateralism, remember) reserved the right to veto it. Meanwhile Nicolas Sarkozy, the front-runner to succeed Mr. Chirac, accused the United States of trying to trick the European Union into making "disproportionate efforts against essentially tactical concessions."
Speaking of tricks and tactical concessions, the E.U. proposal made Friday on farm trade is quite entertaining. The Europeans said they'll cut their average farm tariff by 46 percent -- less than the 54 percent cut that Brazil and other developing countries asked Europe to promise, and much less than the 83 percent cut suggested by the Bush administration. But look at the fine print. The Europeans are proposing to cut the "average" tariff. Yet they didn't say which tariffs they'd be cutting. They reserve the right, for example, to cut tariffs on live primates by 100 percent and then to use that "concession" to justify continued protection for other products. Needless to say, cutting monkey tariffs isn't going to do much for global growth. But retaining protective walls around heavily traded products will certainly retard it.
Europe's proposal also refers to "sensitive products" -- ones that should remain outside the (fake) tariff-cutting process. In the Bush administration's farm proposal, rich countries would be allowed to designate 1 percent of their product categories this way, but Europe wants to call 8 percent of products "sensitive." According to the World Bank, any proposal that allows more than 2 percent to be classified this way is meaningless.
The European proposal, to paraphrase the French, consists of merely tactical concessions. This is because France has bullied its E.U. partners into trade cowardice. The result is that the Doha round, billed as an effort to boost development in the poor world as well as growth in the rich one, appears deadlocked. Does France really want the blame for entrenching poverty? Must it be so unilateralist?