Mar 9, 1992

MARKET ACCESS NEGOTIATORS GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS?

GENEVA, MARCH 5 (CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) Only three or four countries have filed their complete tariff schedules/offers while the very large number of participants have either not filed, or will be filing incomplete schedules or offers, participants in the Uruguay Round market access negotiations reported Thursday.

GATT sources said that some dozen participants said they were tabling their offers and schedules in a day or two, while the others indicated they were working on their schedules, but that for technical reasons they had not been able yet to finalise them.

Some said they had difficulties in finalising their agricultural schedules while others took the same position on industrial products, with the two balancing each other in numbers.

The market access negotiating group, chaired by Canada's Germain Denis held a stock-taking exercise Thursday and will hold another next week, GATT sources said.

In terms of the target dates and deadlines set in January for concluding the negotiations by mid-April, participants were to have tabled their tariff schedules by Marcy 1, and on this basis the schedules were to be finalised by March 31.

In terms of the Dunkel Draft text, the schedules are to cover agricultural and industrial products including textiles and clothing, with countries converting all their import restrictions and variable levies in agriculture into tariffs and writing into their schedules their commitments in terms of market access.

At Thursday's meeting of the group and its stock-taking exercise, only four countries said they had filed their schedules: Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Japan, though the last is understood to exclude "rice".

A number of other trading nations said that the multilateral negotiations were being hampered by the bilateral talks being held elsewhere, a view that the U.S. reportedly rejected, arguing that in the nature of things the market access negotiations had to be bilateral to sort out the differences.

Privately U.S. sources have been telling some of the agricultural exporting nations in the Cairns group that the European Commission is anxious to complete the negotiations and conclude the Round but that it is having problems in getting its act together and getting the okay from its member-States.

While the Dunkel proposals, and the negotiating schedules agreed to in the market access group, require all participants to file a line-by-line schedule, several of the leading participants leave said they were not in a position to do this now but that they would be tabling some "qualitative" offers.

The EC has filed some statistical information on agriculture, and has reportedly said in respect of industrial goods it would provide some qualitative assessment and offers.

Canada too has said it would provide some qualitative offers in industrial products and provide statistical data on agriculture. Korea reportedly said that it would be filing its schedules for industrial products but would be able to do so in agriculture only after decisions on "track four".

Korea is looking to the "track four" process for making changes in the agricultural proposals.

Other participants said that without a line-by-line tariff schedule, it would be difficult for the "offers" to be assessed.

However, EC negotiators appear to have countered this by saying that any country could use the data filed by the EC and its qualitative offers, and with the help of a simple pocket calculator determine what it would gain.

On the second track, negotiations for initial commitments in services, where participants were expected to put in by 6 March their requests for MFN derogations, this has also been extended and is now due for 16 March.

Many delegations believe that the US and the EC will delay putting in their requests in this area, particularly if the Round cannot be completed by mid-April.

Even the "third track" - legal scrutiny of the various texts, including that for the Multilateral Trade Organisation - is facing problems since several countries are trying to use this to reopen some substantive issues.

While negotiators and GATT officials continue to speak in public about participants expressing their commitment and desire to complete the Round by mid-April, they seem to say so with less and less conviction.

Some Third World sources said that while the major trading partners attempt to give the impression that they are serious about concluding the negotiations and wrapping up the Round, their words carry less and less conviction and the electoral politics of Europe and United States over the next several months might result in the Uruguay Round going into "summer hibernation".

The U.S. and the EC Commission are reported however to be continuing to hold talks bilaterally. The U.S. has been looking to Germany to apply pressure on France to lift its objections to the agricultural proposals, but the chances of this happening or of a special G7 summit on trade now seem remote.

This means that the issue can at best come up at the Munich regular G7 summit in June.

Meanwhile, France is reported to be sending delegation of French Parliamentarians to some 15 or 20 key countries to explain the French position on the Round and to counter the view that France is blocking the conclusion of the Round, an announcement in Paris said Thursday.