Mar 5, 1991

AGRICULTURE AGENDA MERE GUIDELINES FOR TECHNICAL WORK.

GENEVA, MARCH 1 (BY CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) Ė "Technical work" on issues of domestic support, border protection and export competition as well sanitary and phytosanitary regulations relating to trade in agriculture are to move forward on the basis of a tentative agenda proposed by GATT Director-General Arthur Dunkel.

But the agenda, on the basis of which the technical work is to proceed, is to be no more than "guidelines", and could be altered at any time and would be without prejudice to the positions of any delegation on any substantive issue.

This was the outcome of the meeting of agricultural negotiators of some 30 key countries which met Friday under Dunkelís chairmanship in pursuance of the work programme for the "restart" of the Uruguay Round negotiations agreed to by the Trade Negotiations Committee on February 26.

This clarification by Dunkel of the status of the agenda proposed by him and its prompt welcome by the EC overcame a possible hurdle over the technical work, participants said.

Whether this would also be the pattern for meetings in other negotiating areas, where the agenda proposed by Dunkel implies a certain re-ordering of priorities, such as in discussing "initial commitments" for trade liberalisation in services without settling the nature of the framework agreement, is not clear.

But if this be the pattern, Third World countries might find themselves in difficulties at the stage of substantive discussions, particularly when the U.S. and EC sort out their mutual differences and join forces against the South in the new areas.

The next meeting on agriculture is set for March 11 to 15, when technical issues relating to "domestic support", including the question of special and differential treatment for Third World countries are to be discussed.

The tentative agenda of technical issues for discussion suggested by Dunkel included:

* In the area of domestic support - a means of determining the policies that shall be excluded from reduction commitments, the role and definition of Aggregate Measurement of Support (AMS) and equivalent commitments, a means of taking account of high levels of inflation faced by some participants;* In area of market access - the modality and scope of tariffication, the modalities of a possible special safeguard for agriculture, the scope and modalities of implementation of a minimum access commitments, the treatment of existing tariffs;* In the area of export competition - a definition of export subsidies to be subject to the terms of the final agreement, including development of means to avoid the circumvention of commitments while maintaining adequate levels of food aid.

The technical work in each of the three areas would also involve reinforcement of GATT rules and disciplines.

In the area of sanitary and phytosanitary measures, the Dunkel agenda said, there was also scope for further refinement of a number of technical provisions and procedures.

In each of these areas the particular concerns of developing countries, of net food importing developing countries, and those relating to food security would be examined.

At Friday's meeting, the first cluster meeting after the TNC agreed on February 26 for the restart of the Round, discussions and comments were confined to the proposed agenda of technical work, formally presented by Dunkel at the TNC.

Dunkel clarified that the agenda he had proposed could be the basis for future work but need not necessarily be the basis for negotiations. The proposed agenda did not also prejudice the position of any delegation on any substantive issue, he reportedly added.

He also suggested that instead of going by the agenda the group should concentrate on substantive issues. Also, in order to advance the work they should meet and discuss technical issues relating to domestic support including special and differential treatment from 11 to 15 March.

For that meeting, the secretariat would produce a checklist of issues on the basis of which discussions could be started.

The European Community welcomed the clarification and said it was satisfied with the Dunkelís statement that the proposed agenda was only a guideline and did not commit any delegation to any substantive issue.

The U.S. made no comment.

The Dunkelís clarification, the EC's prompt expression of satisfaction and the U.S. silence, participants said, left little doubt that all these had been pre-arranged.

Also, it was apparent that the entire "technical work" that would be done was aimed at keeping discussions at a low key and showing that Uruguay Round processes have been re-started, but that little of substance could be expected until the U.S. administration got the fast-track authority and the EC's own internal reform process of its common agricultural policy became clearer.

In other comments, Finland suggested that non-trade concerns issue which had not been highlighted in the Dunkel statement and tentative agenda should not be forgotten while Switzerland hoped that the non-trade concerns would be taken into consideration.

Finland also noted that Dunkelís agenda of technical issues had referred to "high inflation" rates of countries to be taken into account. This would prejudice interests of countries with low inflation. Perhaps a more general language was needed. Chile and Mexico flagged the issue of product coverage while Egypt, Peru and Jamaica raised the problems of net food importers.

Australia in effect said it was willing to give the Dunkel suggestions a try and see how things worked out. But more time would be needed to get persons at adequate technical levels from Capitals and hence sufficient time and notice of what would be discussed and at what level of expertise was essential.