Summary: Tension was building across the Atlantic late on December 15 as the European Union waited anxiously to see if the United States would announce, as threatened, a new list of sanctions against the EU over it banana import regime. European Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan appealed to Washington not to escalate the bitter banana brawl by publishing the list, which defines the products on which the US will impose 100% tariffs if the EU does not change its import rules.

Sir Leon warned that if the Clinton Administration issued the list "it will inevitably cast a shadow over the Summit", between the US and the EU in Washington on December 18. The Commissioner also announced an unprecedented initiative by the EU: it had asked the World Trade Organisation to rule on how the two sides should arbitrate their wrangle. Until now, the EU and the US have disputed not only the banana import regime, but their respective interpretations of the WTO's dispute settlement mechanisms to deal with the issue. Sir Leon has already suggested that a WTO panel, appeal and arbitration could be completed in 170 days, down from the 449 days, but this is still more than the 90 days the US is seeking. And he pointed out that the US had even rejected an offer from WTO Director-General Renato Ruggiero for officials from both sides to meet in Geneva to discuss the timetable. The Americans, Sir Leon said, were eager to claim their WTO rights, but unable to use the WTO properly. "They are, in the poet Pope's word's, 'Willing to wound but afraid to strike'" he said. "Our message is 'Join us in seeking a speedy and definitive solution'" He added that the US actions were highly provocative and destabilising to trade relations. "I beg the US to get back a sense of proportion. The rest of the world finds it distressing and incomprehensible." The Commissioner promised that if the US would go ahead with the sanctions, the EU would challenge within the WTO the US legislation underpinning...

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