Jan 16, 1992


GENEVA, JANUARY 15 (CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) -- The Uruguay Round market access group, the only separate group that survives under the latest phase of the negotiating process endorsed by theTNC on Monday is due to meet this Friday to take stock of the situation in the market access negotiations -and how to move forward.

The group is chaired by Canada's Germain Denis.

At the TNC Monday, GATT Director-General Arthur Dunkel while seeing a consensus of participants to move ahead and conclude the negotiations by mid-April in accordance with his four-track approach, had underlined that the sincerity of these would be evident over the next few weeks, presumably in reference to the tariff and non-tariff negotiations for market access in goods.

Most of these negotiations are bilateral and some plurilateral and the exchange of concessions at the end would be multilateralised. But the group chaired by Denis is to keep over multilateral surveillance on the negotiations.

According to GATT sources, the negotiations on market access and for initial commitments in services, which would need experts from capitals, are being scheduled in two or three stretches, towards end of January, another early in February and a third perhaps at end of February.

Several of the countries are expecting to get their tariff negotiators in Geneva towards the end of January and early in February to conclude the negotiations.

However, the problem facing the negotiators is the uncertainty over agriculture, one of the negotiators explained.

Any idea that the EC may change its stance, in the light of its isolation at Monday's TNC, should be removed after the very tough statement that came out of Paris Wednesday, after a French Cabinet meeting chaired by President Francois Mitterand.

The official government spokesman, after the meeting, relayed to the Press the view of President Mitterand that the Dunkel paper was "unacceptable" because of its inegality. The spokesman quoted Mitterand as having told the Cabinet that "France is not ready to bow to the strong will of the Americans". The spokesman also quoted Foreign Minister Ronald Dumas, as saying the EC Commission must stick to the mandate given to it.

Independently, the French agriculture minister was also quoted as declaring the Dunkel text as "unacceptable on many points and absolutely unacceptable on agriculture". Mermaz was quoted as saying that any cutbacks in exports without a counterpart would have a dramatic effect on Europe and talk of increasing aid to farmers was a mere "lure", and would jeopardise the economic independence of Europe.

With the EC insisting on reopening the agricultural package for changes, negotiations in all the products covered under this, including tropical products, would be taking place in some uncertainty. The market access negotiators could proceed bilaterally on the basis that the package would remain unchanged, or would improve or worsen - with the last being a major possibility if the changes sought by the EC are to be incorporated.

Some sources say they would expect the negotiations to begin on the basis of the existing agricultural text in the Dunkel package. Whether those who want changes in this would accept it or would merely stall things until the situation about substantial changes in the agriculture texts are made remains to be seen.

This would produce considerably uncertainty in "offers" and "requests" and clinching deals, with many countries having to keep in the mind the option of withdrawing their "offers" if their expected outcome in agriculture is reduced.

Another problem facing the market access negotiations is the U.S. "zero-zero" option and the so-called sectoral negotiations, namely for continuing the cuts and opening up of markets to particular sectors.

Before the Xmas package was presented, the Latin American group had protested that both the zero-zero option and the sectoral negotiations, focussing as they do on products of interest to the major industrialised countries, would result in the negotiations on exports of interest to the developing world being neglected or sidelined.