- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

Europe’s top trade official yesterday called for a “fresh start” in trans-Atlantic relations, less than a week before he is to meet his U.S. counterpart to discuss grating commercial disputes.

“Nobody would deny that we have been through a difficult patch in the last few years. It is time for us to make a fresh start,” Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner, said in Brussels.

Mr. Mandelson, newly appointed trade chief for the 25-nation European Union, is scheduled to meet with U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick next week in Paris to discuss a dispute over aircraft subsidies, World Trade Organization negotiations and other matters. The meeting will be the first since Mr. Mandelson took over his post last month.

The Bush administration yesterday indicated that it would start off with a diplomatic gesture and not immediately press a high-profile fight involving European aircraft manufacturer Airbus and Chicago-based Boeing.

The United States will not immediately ask the WTO to convene a panel to consider charges of illegal subsidies.

“We will not be making a request to establish a WTO panel before the end of the year. While no one should doubt our resolve to press ahead with this case, we want to give the new commissioner time to review the issues,” said a U.S. trade official, who spoke on the condition of not being named.

Europe accused the Bush administration of ratcheting up trans-Atlantic disputes to a new level when earlier this year the United States scrapped an agreement that allowed a set level of aircraft subsidies and then filed a WTO case charging illegal government support. The United States said the 1992 agreement was obsolete because Airbus had surpassed Boeing as the world’s top aircraft manufacturer.

Europe countered with its own suit against government support for Boeing.

Despite the high-profile battle on aircraft and other ongoing disputes, the United States and Europe have collaborated to advance global talks at the WTO. Mr. Mandelson said the WTO negotiations are the single most important issue on his agenda.

“Our top priority in trade on both sides of the Atlantic has to be to put our weight behind the current multilateral negotiations and to encourage others to demonstrate a similar commitment,” he said.

The United States and European Union this year helped resuscitate the negotiations after a bitter collapse in the fall of 2003.

Mr. Mandelson said he “will be talking to Bob Zoellick next week about how we can now accelerate work in other areas of the round — such as services, industrial tariffs and anti-dumping rules — so that we can advance a balanced and ambitious agenda, which is what we need to secure agreement.”

But the two sides also have sniped over the single most important issue, government payments to support agriculture. Each side has complained that the other is not willing to make deep cuts to subsidy programs.

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