BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ An agreement between U.S. and European trade negotiators could help the two sides resolve a stubborn dispute over a ban on hormone-treated meat from America, a top European official said Sunday.

Frans Andriessen, the leading trade negotiator for the 12-nation European Community, said, ''I don't say we are close to a solution, but I think we are now in a situation which makes it easier to come to a solution.''

Andriessen spoke to reporters after arriving from Washington, where he held talks with Agriculture Secretary Clayton Yeutter and Carla Hills, the U.S. trade representative.

During the discussions, the officials agreed to set up a high-level task force to study the dispute over the next 75 days and try to find ways to end it.

The conflict was touched off when the Common Market trading bloc imposed on Jan. 1 a ban on imports of meat from cattle treated with growth hormones. The United States refused to comply and slapped stiff duties on a variety of European products.

Andriessen said U.S. officials still contest the prohibition but ''they have accepted now that to ship the meat (they) have to comply with our requirements.''

He said he expected the Americans to ''look for ways and means to make it possible to export'' meat to the Common Market.

''That of course is a more realistic approach than we have had until now,'' he said.

Andriessen declined to say whether he would urge European foreign ministers to delay at a meeting Monday the imposition of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. imports of walnuts and dried fruit. The foreign ministers last month vowed to slap the sanctions on the American products if no progress was made in resolving the meat dispute.

A European official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, however, that Andriessen told a Dutch radio station it would be wise not to escalate the dispute.

Andriessen said talks with officials of the new Bush administration gave him the impression ''we have a very positive environment for cooperation.''

''My impression is that we can work together,'' said Andriessen.

The hormone ban was imposed because of European concerns the stimulants posed a health risk to consumers, a claim the United States disputes.

The prohibition is expected to block the importation of about $100 million worth of beef and beef byproducts from the United States, a small part of the $165 billion worth of trade last year between the giant trading partners.

The United States' retaliatory duties also affect about $100 million worth of goods, as do the proposed tariffs the Common Market is considering on American walnuts and drief fruit.