Summary: The attempts by leaders at the Summit in Washington on December 18 between the United States and the European Union to show joint resolve may well sound hollow as the two sides endure one of their most bitter and fraught trade disputes. A joint action plan entitled the Transatlantic Economic Partnership, designed to open each other's markets and forge a common front in the World Trade Organisation, is likely to be completely overshadowed by the banana dispute between the two sides.

The EU-US Summit, which will bring together US President Bill Clinton, European Commission President Jacques Santer, Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan, as well as Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima and Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schussel for the EU Council Presidency, is expected to be dominated by the increasingly acrimonious transatlantic battle over the EU's banana import system in place since July 1993. The dispute has prompted Sir Leon to new levels of rhetoric and poetry as he appeals to the US to back down from threats to impose sanctions on the EU. The issue could indeed make a mockery of the two-and-a-half-hour Summit which was supposed to showcase the Transatlantic Partnership. If the US does carry through its threat, then it will cast serious doubt on the two sides' ability to resolve their problems at any level. And waiting in the wings are further arguments over beef hormones: the EU lost a WTO panel - initiated by the US - on its ban on the hormones and has still to announce plans to implement the panel's ruling. On the US side, President Clinton's attention may be on other matters. He will face one of his most testing times, battling to save his...

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