Nov 16, 1982




Geneva Nov 15 (IPS/by Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- As weary negotiators brake up Monday morning after another all-night session, some of them reported progress of sorts in some areas and no decisions on many others in evolving a text of Ministerial Declaration for the GATT meeting next week.


The small group of 20 negotiators from key countries have been meeting under chairmanship of the GATT Council chairman, Amb Bhagirath Lal Das of India, to evolve a compromise text for adoption by ministers at their meeting here from Nov 24 to 26.


Earlier efforts through the preparatory committee chaired by Canada's Donald Mcphail had ended in hopeless deadlock - with over ninety square brackets (on unresolved issues), and half a dozen footnotes on some very fundamental and non-negotiable positions.


The Das group has been at work for a fortnight to seek compromises, and have been involved in intense consultations. The GATT Council is now due to meet Tuesday afternoon, by when the members would have had a chance to look at the compromise text from Das's group that the secretariat of GATT is expected to issue to delegations sometime Monday.


It was not very clear, even to some of the participants in these consultations. what the status of the text would be, whether the points of disagreement would be left for ministers or their senior officials from capitals to come and negotiate, or whether, the contentious and controversial issues will be just jettisoned atleast for the moment, with a vague 'face-saving' formula that the Contracting Parties will look at these issues at some future meeting. It was not even clear whether the council and its chairman would wind up their efforts and leave it all up to the contracting parties, and any further compromise consultation efforts of the Chairman of the CPs (who will be the Canadian Mcphail) or whether the Council Chairman will be asked to continue his efforts till the end.


Even some of the compromises evolved now would appear to be ad referendum, meaning that the negotiators have merely given their personal consent but would stick with it only when their bosses back home agree.


On Thursday last at the GATT council meeting, Das had said the persisting difficulties related to the nature of the commitments to be adopted by ministers, agriculture including agriculture subsidies and disciplines, safeguards code, trading problems of Third World countries and implementation of commitments to them, and the score or more of new areas sought to be brought under GATT purview for study and actions.


The Das's group began its current efforts an Friday morning, broke up Saturday morning, had another go at it for six hours on Saturday, and reassembled an Sunday morning to disperse at 0700 GMT of Monday when it became clear nothing more was possible. The text from the group is expected to outline areas of possible agreement and of disagreement.


This style of postwar multilateral diplomatic negotiations, aimed at producing results down to the wire, is increasingly becoming counter-productive. As some diplomats note, all that happens in such conditions is that while diplomats remain sharp to protect their country's interests, they tend to be more irritable and less patient and flexible, and hence prone to reject compromises.


As of Monday morning, GATT diplomats said there was now some progress and some kind of agreement an the political declaration and commitments, that in practice would not amount to anything. There was some ad referendum agreement on agriculture but on (the) basis that the issue of agricultural subsidies would be left out. There was no agreement an 'dispute settlement' since EEC refuses to accept what others agree, namely, that in any dispute and GATT council action on the recommendation of a panel. None of the two disputants would be able to block a consensus. The EEC does not want to give up its veto right to protect its interests when a ruling goes against it.


On the safeguards issue, the decision to work for a code based an some principles would not however take the issue beyond the present position where no code seems possible unless the Third World countries agree to invest the industrialized world with powers to take discriminatory 'selective' safeguards actions against the Third World, and to accept 'voluntary export restraints', now outside GATT should be brought in(to GATT) by 'legitimizing' all such agreements.


There was reportedly no agreement an the future work programme, including the very contentious US-raised issues like 'trade in services', 'trade-related investment issues', and high-technology services issues.