FRENCH farmers may not be the largest grouping in the world, nor accorded quite the same status as their counterparts in Mao's China, but they will certainly go down in the annals of history. They have stalled what is arguably the biggest post-World War II free-trade agreement - according to one set of estimates, a successful Uruguay Round will boost global trade by US$213 billion a year - with no signs of giving in. Now, with two months to go to D-day - the date after which any agreement hammered out by the 108 parties would be subject to further tampering by the US Congress - the man who bore the brunt of these squabbles over the years believes an end is in sight. Arthur Dunkel, who earlier this year handed over the reins of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade to Peter Sutherland, bases his confidence on governmental rhetoric and objective need (basically the world outside Asia is up a nasty creek without a paddle). Everyone is aware of the December 15 deadline, he says, and equally aware of the need to meet it. If he is right - and few could be better placed than Mr Dunkel to say so - there is no doubt about the benefits that will ensue. In a nutshell, stitching up the Uruguay Round - slashing tariffs and expanding market access - will be to the world economy what the Middle East peace accord was to world harmony. It will mean greater access to wealthier markets at lower costs: a formula few can argue with. It will swell domestic economies, create jobs and recreate consumer confidence and disposable income, commodities many in the industrialised world are beginning to forget ever existed. In Hong Kong, where people are still perfectly familiar with fat job sections in the papers and queues at department store check-outs, there will still be big advantages. More robust economies in the Western world, especially America, should reduce the territory's reliance on China, leaving it less at the mercy of American pot-shots at the mainland, in the form of either 301-type investigations or threatened withdrawal ofMost Favoured Nation status. It will open up and develop a whole new world in the form of trade in services - an area of increasing importance to the territory - and help oil its structural shift into the high-technology big-financing headquarters of Asia Inc. Mr Dunkel says this is zero hour, and of course he is right. It is to be hoped he is right when he says resolution is on the cards too: the only kicking and screaming will be on les fields of France.