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Introduction: the Significance of the Houston Summit

John J. Kirton

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Creating Consensus at Houston

It remained for the Heads themselves at Houston, in their two days of bilateral discussions preceding the Summit, and in their three days of meetings all together, to forge a consensus to advance international action on these basic issues of global security, economy and ecology. The pre-Summit bilaterals produced some movement on environmental issues, as President Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney agreed to open negotiations on a North American acid rain accord, and Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany indicated to the President that he would not push his Summit partners to adopt Germany's extreme policy of a 25 per cent reduction of emissions of carbon dioxide by the year 2005.

The first day of the Summit itself was dominated by political issues. Germany, supported by France, Italy, and the European Community, sought large-scale, immediate Summit financial assistance to the Soviet Union, an initiative that was opposed by the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan. Japan, supported by the United States but opposed by France and Canada, sought Summit permission to lift the restrictions on cooperation with China agreed to at the 1989 Paris Summit as a means of protesting the Chinese government's murder of students in Tienanmen Square.

On the Summit's second day, attention turned to trade and agriculture. Propelled by aggressive briefings from U. S. Agriculture Secretary Clayton Yeutter and Special Trade Representative (USTR) Carla Hills, attending their first Summit alongside the usual trio of finance minister, foreign minster and Head, the United States pushed for a firm and far-reaching commitment to end agricultural subsidies. To maintain the pressure on their partners and their media, the United States also introduced into the Summit a quasi-official pressure group-cum-conference on trade liberalization, led by former USTR Bill Brock. The European Community, supported by its continental loyalists France and Italy, were taken aback by the American onslaught but refused nonetheless to negotiate away fundamental features of European agriculture and European institutional solidarity.

Throughout the final night of the Summit the sherpas worked with determination to produce a final text that their Heads could approve the next day. In addition to the agricultural subsidies question, much of their time was taken by continuing divisions over global environmental issues. In the end, however, they succeeded in delivering a draft Economic Declaration that contained few square brackets (indicating areas of outstanding disagreement) save for a few on environmental issues.

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