Feb 4, 1991

CONSULTATIONS ON "PLATFORM" FOR AGRICULTURE NEGOTIATIONS.

GENEVA, JANUARY 31 (BY CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) Ė GATT Director-General, Arthur Dunkel held a series of consultations Thursday with key prayers in his effort to evolve a "platform" for agricultural negotiations and use it to restart Uruguay Round negotiations in all the areas quickly. Dunkel would appear to have held consultations with the U.S. senior negotiator, Julian Katz and Peter Fields from Australia, which chairs the Cairns Group of Agricultural Exporters. Later, the Cairns Group members held separate consultations of their own and with Julian Katz.

Dunkelís consultations are expected to continue Friday and perhaps over the weekend.

EC top officials, Hugo Paemen and Guy Legras are due in Geneva Friday to confer with Dunkel and, in the light of discussions with them, Dunkel would confer again with the U.S. and Cairns Group. Dunkel has indicated that he hopes to evolve a "platform" for the agricultural negotiations, which might not be accepted by everyone but would not be rejected either.

The European Community has been making noises about its willingness to find solutions to the impasse, which broke up the Brussels meeting in December. But while it has been talking of finding a formula for agreements covering all three areas - domestic support, border protection and export subsidies - other countries say that there in still. some vagueness. Brazil and Argentina in the Cairns Group have said they wanted the platform to provide "clear and unambiguous" commitments of the EC for fundamental agriculture reforms, and that they don't want to go through the same process as over the first four years of the negotiations and the Brussels meeting. While the U.S. has been reportedly making some favourable noises with the EC about its being encouraged by the EC proposals and plans for reform of its common agricultural policy, it would also appear to be agreeing with the Cairns Group members that the EC ideas were too vague and did not mean any advance over Brussels. Third World sources noted in this connection that in the run-up to Brussels, and at Brussels, the U.S. had adopted similar stances and had privately encouraged the Cairns Group to take a tougher stand than the U.S. itself was doing.It is clear that the U.S. is in a weaker position in taking a hard stance against the EC or Japan, particularly in the light of the Gulf War and the prospect of a prolonged conflict.

Some GATT sources seen to think that, in the light of the talks that the EC and the U.S. have already held in Washington (between Franz Andriessen and Mrs. Carla Hills), a compromise between the two on agriculture was in sight and that this should enable restarting negotiations on agriculture and all other areas and evolving a package of agreements, at least in outline, which could be used by the U.S. to got the fast-track authority extended. But whether this would be acceptable to the Cairns Group is not so clear. Much would probably depend on Brazil and Argentina.

During Andriessenís visit to Punta del Este where he met some of the key leading Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay) he would appear to have spoken of the need for concluding the round successfully with "scaling down" of ambitions.Reports here after that meeting gave a negative assessment and said that the Latin American Cairns Group members made clear that they would have difficulties in an outcome where there would be scaling down of ambitions in agriculture and having to cede more on intellectual property and other new areas.

Since that meeting, the Uruguayan Foreign Minister, Gross Espiell (who chairs the Ministerial TNC meetings) writes in the IPS columnists service has provided his own assessment.

He has said that the Punta del Este meeting had shown "continuation of substantial differences, especially in the sector of agriculture, between the EEC and Latin America", but that there was consensus on the "increasing awareness" of need to adopt more flexible positions to channel the negotiations in the direction of "global balance" and avoid a collapse which would undermine confidence in the MTNs and irretrievably weaken the GATT. Referring to the intensive consultations between the U.S. and EC, Gross-Espiell has also said that this "awareness" and need to reach acceptable results "even if limited in scope", plus a dose of "pragmatic realism and throwing aside of ambitious objectives that could not be achieved now meant possibility to lower expectations" and propose formulas that would signify progress compared with current situation in at least six of seven areas. Identifying these as agriculture, services, textiles market access, intellectual property rights, investment and restrictive trade measures, Gross Espiell has also spoken of coming up with a package, whose general outline could be ready by February and put into final shape in two or three months. All these he has said was possible only if there was "flexibility and realism", with the EEC realising it must offer "something substantial" in agriculture and other participants recognise the EC's legitimate call for "global negotiations" and to make "balanced progress in all other sectors". The remarks seen capable of somewhat different interpretations. Gross Espiell himself is due in Geneva in the middle of the month, and by then a clearer picture would have emerged from the Dunkel consultations.

In the meanwhile, at EC's instance there have been plurilateral consultations Thursday on "initial commitments" on services. The EC and others who have actually tabled some "offers" as well as other participants were invited to the plurilateral meeting held at the EC mission, participants said. The meeting was purportedly to enable participants to seek clarifications on the initial offers tabled by the participants.

Much of the discussion however was at a highly technical level (such as on the nature of "packet switching arrangements" for using telecommunications as mode of delivery) and Geneva-based delegates could not address them, according to participants. While no conclusions were apparently reached, some participants said that it was clear to everyone that it was not possible to make any progress on negotiating initial commitments without reaching agreements on the multilateral framework itself, and that it would not be possible to quickly wrap up agreements on initial commitments over the next few weeks as was being suggested.