Feb 6, 1986
UNCTAD DATA BASE COULD BE USED TO COMBAT PROTECTIONISM.GENEVA, FEBRUARY 4 (IFDA/CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN)ó Member states of the UN Conference on Trade and Development would soon be able to have direct access to the very comprehensive UNCTAD database on trade measures, a senior UNCTAD official has disclosed. The UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General, Alistair McIntyre, said that governments could be either provided direct access to the UNCTAD computer files or could be provided simplified information that could be used on small, more affordable desktop computers. McIntyre, who was opening Monday an intergovernmental expert group on the data base, said that as an information source on conditions of access to particular markets, the data base was a valuable and unique source of information, which would be of particular benefit to third world countries who did not have the resources to track down market opportunities open to them. The expert group has been mandated to reach a consensus on definitions and methodology of UNCTADís database on trade measures keeping in mind the need for global coverage and balanced treatment. This is intended to assist the UNCTAD trade and development board to decide on definitions of "non-tariff barriers" and trade measures", and enable the dissemination of the inventory. The director of UNCTADís manufactures division, B. L. Das, said that judiciously used, UNCTADís data base could assist governments to combat protectionism through improved transparency, and help governments to take more meaningful stands on trade liberalisation. McIntyre, pointed out that the potential for trade expansion was at present being limited by macro-economic and financial factors, as well as the malfunctioning of the international financial and trading systems. While this general economic malaise contributed to the growth of interventionism, especially in sensitive economic sectors, it was equally true that sectoral interventionism had an overall negative impact on growth, and contributed to the strains in the international systems. Recent UNCTAD studies had shown that the patterns of intervention had fallen particularly hard on the third world. But one of the difficulties in tackling these problems was that modern sectoral intervention was difficult to identify, and its effects difficult to quantify. It had been therefore hard to speak more than in general terms about fulfilment or otherwise of international commitments on standstill and rollback of non-tariff interventions. These difficulties had also contributed to the near impossibility of securing meaningful reductions of this type of intervention. The comprehensive information now available on UNCTADís database, McIntyre said, should enable answers to some of these questions. Computerisation had made it possible to link trade, tariff and non-tariff information collected by different agencies, including the United Nations, GATT and UNCTAD itself, in such a way that it was becoming possible to start to answer some of these questions. While the UNCTAD secretariat-itself was aware that the data base was not perfect, "nevertheless, the data base as it stands is the most comprehensive and detailed set of useable information on trade, tariff and non-tariff measures available", McIntyre pointed out. When UNCTAD started compiling the information, the emphasis had been on an inventory of non-tariff barriers. But soon it was becoming clear that it was not always possible to say that a particular measure in existence or an action taken "inevitably has a restricting or trade-distorting effect". UNCTAD had therefore shifted its emphasis to collection of information on trade measures or trade actions, without passing any secretariat judgement on the restrictiveness of the measures, or whether they were "illegal" or even "undesirable". Das said that more work was needed to make the data base complete, by bringing in all government measures, whether at the frontier or inside the country, that distort trade, and also "grey area" measures like voluntary export restraints. The work of the experts group, and the comments of governments, would help the secretariat to make the data base more comprehensive and objective. But even in its current state the data base was sufficiently developed to provide a record that - judiciously used - could throw light on national trade actions, and assist governments to combat protectionism through improved, transparency in international trade, as well has helping governments to form more meaningful stands on trade liberalisation. The UNCTAD data base was now linked with material collected by other organisations, and its analytical potential enhanced through computerised data entry and retrieval systems. Non-tariff, information in UNCTADís data base, covering several thousands of pages, now covered over 50 countries. On the problem of definitions, the UNCTAD secretariat has said that all public regulations and governmental practices that introduce unequal treatment between domestic and foreign goods of the same or similar production, should be considered non-tariff barriers. A measure, either in practices or potentially may have a trade-distorting effect and introduce differential treatment for domestic and foreign production. Even this definition, UNCTAD notes, has some shortcomings, both because it does not take account of the fact that the restrictiveness of a measure may change over time. Also, private barriers and practices, like voluntary export restraints (VERS), arranged at industry to industry level, are not included. At present, UNCTAD was collecting information on trade control measures applied on imports at the border, which affected the level and pattern of international trade and differentiates in treatment between foreign and domestic goods (more). But if the proposed definition were adopted, account would also be taken measures affecting production and exports trade and production incentives. production subsidies, export subsidies, and fiscal and taxation measures affecting pattern and level of production and trade. It was necessary to include such measures since in some countries these measures were used a s a primary form of intervention to support domestic production against imports or exports of other countries to third country markets. There were some "measures" which acted as barriers sometimes, but not in other cases. The same measure might be of minor importance in some countries but a major one in other countries, or only some countries might be affected by a measure and not others. Due to these difficulties, in compiling the data the UNCTAD secretariat did not enter into any judgements as to whether a particular trade measure acted as a barrier in a particular country or not. For objectivity and impartiality all such information was collected and stored. Since the objective of the data collection has been to get a clear pattern of measures affecting trade, in the secretariat's view, all trade measures - whether legal under GATT or otherwise - should be collected. If a restrictive measure was legal under GATT, it was nevertheless negotiable, and their removal may benefit trade expansion. Das noted that some of the trade measures might not be for protection, but for other reasons. However, to maintain objectivity, UNCTAD lists all product-specific measures irrespective of their purpose.