Nov 18, 1992




Geneva Nov 17 (IPS/Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The GATT Council Tuesday evening agreed to forward to the Contracting Parties the draft of a declaration and decisions to be adopted by ministers when they meet on Nov 24 to 26. 

The text forwarded was the one put forward, on his personal responsibility by the chairman of the council, Amb Bhagirath Lal Das of India. It was based on the informal consultations and agreements he held with a small group of some 20 key negotiators. 

The text has no 'square brackets', though technically it is still open to amendments and negotiations to change it until the ministers adopt it. It has however blanks on six items where there has been no agreement so far -- dispute settlement procedures, subsidies, fisheries, services, trade-related performance requirements and trade in high technology. 

A GATT spokesman said that consultations and negotiations would continue between now and the ministerial meeting on the remaining outstanding issues, though the problems were more fundamental, namely, whether they are to be included or not, with little room for cosmetic language to bridge differences.

 It was not clear how these will be handled now. The council by forwarding the draft to the Ministers and the Contracting Parties has in a sense washed its hands off. Das has convened a meeting of his group for Wednesday, but this was understood to be merely for a procedural decision on how to proceed an these six remaining items. The Contracting Parties themselves are due to meet from Monday, changing into a ministerial session from 24, and Canada's Amb Donald Mcphail, who was the chairman of the preparatory committee could as chairman of the contracting parties initiate informal consultations. But the issues being very fundamental, and involving whether GATT has any jurisdiction at all in some areas, it is difficult to see what anyone can do now that has not been attempted in the last few months. The last three items - where the services and performance requirements have been negatived by the Third World, and the high technology by the EEC - are all US items, where its policy-makers and TNCs have put much prestige behind. The US might still try to insist on some compromise acceptable to it by threatening, as it has been doing via the media from Washington, of not playing by GATT rules or rejecting the draft declaration itself. But then the fiasco and shambles that would ensue would be of its own making, (that) even the mighty and powerful United States cannot escape.- 

On Tuesday evening several of the council members made individual statements of explanations and reservations for the record over the text, but the text put forward by Das was unanimously adopted and forwarded to the ministers. 

As a GATT spokesman put it, while it is customary at such meetings for delegations to offer protocol congratulations to the chairman, there was no mistaking the warmth and sincerity of the statements from all delegations. Delegates of both the Third World and the Industrialised Countries privately said that if a complete fiasco had been averted, and a declaration reflecting the realities of the day has come out, it is entirely due to the leadership, skill and patience shown by Das in his group in drawing up compromise texts and getting it accepted.-