[Page 540]

180. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Summary of the President’s Telephone Conversation with French President Giscard d’Estaing

PARTICIPANTS

  • President Jimmy Carter
  • President Valery Giscard d’Estaing

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the multilateral trade negotiations.]

The President asked President Giscard for his very rapid and enthusiastic help to conclude the MTN successfully. We really need his assistance in this. The President understood that the meeting is going on today,2 and what we would like to do is meet the December 15th date that they set as a goal in Bonn. What are President Giscard’s thoughts about this?

President Giscard said he would be very frank with the President. Since 1974, France has been rather reluctant about these negotiations, because they think that it is difficult to understand why in the world of today—with the new competitors that will come, like the Japanese and the Far East countries—we engage ourselves in a difficult negotiation for reducing tariffs which are already very low, and open to all the competition of the world. So basically, he doesn’t realize why they give so much effort which is not obviously needed. When it was suggested in 1972 by President Nixon, then the world was different: a world in which trade was growing, oil was very cheap—a different world. So basically, France is not enthusiastic about MTN. And so they “contribute not to oppose to a rule” that seems to be desired by the United States and some others. But France is not very eager, he must confess. On the other hand, the vote by Congress on the waivers is not politically . . . the vote on special protection for special sectors that the [Page 541]Senate voted three weeks ago. The President vetoed a part of the Bill, on textiles,3 and there is another part that has been adopted by the Senate and which is absolutely against MTN negotiations.

The President said that the Congress did not act in time, but he has no doubt that they will act very early in 1979.

President Giscard said that what he would suggest is that France is, really and for national and for objective reasons, rather reluctant about this, and it is not a mystery. He can send someone. The President’s envoy—Mr. Strauss—is very energetic, but perhaps too much, because he took for granted that he could obtain what he asked for—but he probably didn’t. Would it be useful to have a frank and exhaustive exploration between the President’s people and his?

The President said “yes.” He asked whether President Giscard agreed that they will try to meet the December 15th deadline which they established in Bonn.

President Giscard said that he doesn’t know, because this deadline was upset by this vote of the Senate. The President thinks this vote will be reversed—but only at the beginning of January, not before.

The President said that the problem is that the Congress did not vote. The legislation that we need and expect was inadvertently killed in the last few hours of the Session because Congress didn’t get around to it; they did not take affirmative action, they just failed to take affirmative action. He has no doubts that we can repair that very early in the next Session, if we can have the implementation of the agreement even contingent upon action by the Congress: this would suit him o.k.

President Giscard asked what the importance is for the President of the December 15 deadline.

The President said that it is just that all of them agreed—including President Giscard—at Bonn to have December 15 as a deadline, and if we go back on that plan then it leaves the entire matter extremely uncertain. He has, as he is sure does President Giscard, substantial protectionist sentiment in the U.S., and we are trying to do everything we can to prevent tariffs from being too high.

President Giscard said that, frankly, they could not commit themselves to this deadline, whatever the content is, because they have a basic “place” on the substance. So he does not know if there is a chance before December 15th to have agreement on the substance. He doesn’t know. This discussion today is a discussion between the Nine, and he thinks that they will keep their formal position. But then they will have [Page 542]to review the problem with the U.S. negotiators. There is also the case of Japan, because Japan is not bringing to that negotiation the part that it must bring.

The President said that he sees. He has not been involved, and is not familiar with the details of the negotiations, and that is not something he is looking for (laughs). But he wanted to let President Giscard know how important it is to us to have the schedule maintained and, obviously, if they cannot agree, that would be an additional problem that they would have to face, frankly. Also the need for the Congress to give him authority for the countervailing duties is also important. And if we fail to keep our part of the agreement, including the countervailing duty legislation, then obviously we could not conclude the agreements. He would guess that each one of the nations, after the agreements are reached on the MTN, would have to refer the agreement back to parliaments for ratification.

President Giscard said that for France, there is no need for ratification, because it is covered by the Rome Treaty, but for the others, they have to. He will give proper attention to this matter because the President had mentioned it to him. He cannot commit himself to a final agreement before December 15th, because he does not know if substance will be satisfactorily settled for that moment. But they will try to see if that is indeed (possible?).

The President said that that is very encouraging. Are there any other items President Giscard would like to discuss with him now?

President Giscard said that there is no other item he wants to discuss for the moment. If there is one, he will send a message to the President.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the multilateral trade negotiations.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 37, Memcons: President: 11/78. Secret; Sensitive. Carter spoke to Giscard from the Oval Office. Carter wrote at the top of the page: “ok—cc: Susan. J.” Carter’s handwritten notes on the conversation are in the Carter Library, Plains File, President’s Personal Foreign Affairs File, Box 1, France, 9/77–5/81.
  2. The EC Council of Ministers met in Brussels November 20–21. Telegram 22334 from USEC Brussels, November 24, provided a summary of the Council’s discussions, and telegram 22146 from USEC Brussels, November 22, reported on the discussion of the MTN. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780485–0243 and D780481–0124, respectively)
  3. Regarding the legislation forbidding the granting of tariff concessions on textiles, see Document 170 and footnote 3 thereto. On November 11, Carter vetoed the bill, H.R. 9937. See Document 178 and footnote 3 thereto.