Aug 28, 1986
NEW EFFORTS AT CONSENSUS OVER MINISTERIAL MEET?.GENEVA AUGUST 26 (IFDA/CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) -- With the return to Geneva, after the august vacations, of Senior Delegates to GATT, informal consultations over the Ministerial Meeting of GATT CPS at Punta del Este in September are expected to resume here over the next two weeks. The Foreign Minister of Uruguay, Enrique Iglesias, who is to chair the Punta del Este meeting, is also expected here over the week-end, and is expected to hold consultations with key protagonists in an effort to avoid a confrontation and promote a consensus at the september meeting. Iglesias will be coming here from Australia, where he has been this week to attend the meeting of the 12 non-subsidised agricultural producing countries. Spokesmen of leading industrial countries as well as the GATT Secretariat have been promoting the view that the divisions among the GATT CPS over the new round relate mainly to the new themes and agriculture, and that these are not technical issues but ones requiring political decisions by Ministers. However, there are also serious differences on a number of issues relating to the traditional GATT areas of trade in goods – including on the nature and terms of a standstill and rollback commitment, the basis for negotiations on safeguards, and other areas. There are also differences coming up on how the Punta del Este meeting should be organised and how it could consider the issues. The U.S., and the GATT Secretariat, have been promoting the view that the technical ground has been cleared, and that only political decisions on the differences remain. In this view, these protagonists want the Ministers to address the differences and decide among themselves – a format that would favour the outcome sought by the U.S. This was the format that was attempted at the 1982 GATT meeting of CPS at Ministerial Level, when the chairman of the meeting got a handful of Ministers – with all but one of them representing the proud viewpoints – and sought to hammer through an agreement. But this whole effort in fact resulted in some confrontation and even confusion, which could be resolved only by extending the conference, and 48 hours of negotiations involving senior officials and technical people. This provoked one of the third world senior officials then to remark "GATT is too serious a business to be left to Ministers". The GATT Preparatory Committee which had been charged with the task of preparing recommendations "for the programme of negotiations for adoption at a Ministerial meeting" was deadlocked and failed to agree on any recommendations, and at its final meeting on july 31, merely agreed to transmit all the documents and the three draft declarations, formally tabled before it, to the Ministers for their consideration. The three drafts are: one by the group of ten third world countries, the second by Switzerland and Colombia, and the third by Argentina in the form of amendment to the Swiss-Colombian text. The three documents are known here commonly by their document numbers – the first as W/41/REV.1, the second as W/47/REV.2, and the third as W/49. When the PREPCOM wound up, there had been some talk that, despite failure in the PREPCOM, efforts should be renewed to promote consensus and understanding through informal contacts and discussions, and avoid polarisation and confrontation at Punta del Este. Such consultations, it had been suggested, could be held at Geneva itself informally by the GATT Director-General and/or at the level of senior officials at Punta del Este by the host government, Uruguay. The GATT Director-General himself, in his letter of transmittal to Iglesias has said that he intends to start consultations at the end of august, in his capacity as GATT Director-General, to facilitate the task of Iglesias at the Punta del Este meeting. However it is not clear whether Dunkel as GATT Director-General would now be able to promote a consensus when he had been unable to do so as chairman of the PREPCOM. The entire issue of the new round, and its objectives, subject matter and modalities, has seen a polarisation within the GATT, with the Secretariat to some extent having become identified with one viewpoint (that of the U.S.A.). In July, when the Swiss-Colombian effort to promote a common text to which a number of industrial and third world countries could subscribe got under way, Secretariat Officials privately sought to project through the media this effort as an isolation of the group of ten countries, particularly Brazil and India, which were opposed to bringing new themes into GATT. Dunkel himself is known to have briefed a select group of western newsmen to this effect at an informal luncheon by him, resulting in more or less identical stories by newsmen present. But ultimately when the PREPCOM ended, it was clear that the effort to isolate India and Brazil had failed, and the group of ten had now a few more supporters, and despite U.S. and other pressures at capitals the ten have been standing together. Since then, Dunkel’s letter of transmittal appears to have created some new controversy, with group of ten countries individually complaining in writing about the value judgement in it on the three drafts, and in effect putting the Secretariat’s weight behind the Swiss-Colombian effort, through selective quotations. In the letter of transmittal, circulated as a restricted document but a copy of which has been obtained by IFDA, the chairman has drawn attention to the various working documents before the PREPCOM including the three proposed drafts of a Ministerial Declaration. In listing then seriatim and by their document numbers, while the document of the group of ten and of Argentina have been listed factually, that of Switzerland and Colombia has been sought to be put on a higher pedestal. This has been done by quoting the claims of its sponsors that it was the result of "intensive consultations among a large number of participants in the Preparatory Committee", and that the sponsors consider it has "broad support to be the basis for discussion by Ministers at Punta del Este". While drawing attention to the views of members of the PREPCOM as reflected in the summary records, Dunkel has also said in his transmittal letter, about the Swiss-Colombian draft: "While noting that a large number of members of the committee have indicated their preferences for one of these drafts, PREP.COM.(86)W/47/REV.2 (Swiss-Colombian text) as the basis for a decision by Ministers to launch the new round, I would of course have wished to be able to submit to Ministers a single draft declaration supported by all members of the committee. However despite great efforts to this end, it was not possible to reach agreed views in the committee". The summary records of the PREPCOM for that meeting however show that the 47/REV.2, the final revised version of the Swiss-Colombian text, was presented to the PREPCOM only on july 30, and that its sponsors did not seek any discussion or consideration of the draft in the PREPCOM or seek a consensus, but sought its remittal to the Punta del Este meeting as the basis for the consideration of Ministers. The entire discussions in the PREPCOM on july 30 and 31 merely related to what should be done with the three texts, with countries expressing themselves as either favouring the remittal of only the Swiss-Colombian text, or as regretting the lack of efforts at discussion and consensus, and hence seeking remittal of all the three texts. In the informal consultations preceding the formal PREPCOM meeting, there had apparently been an attempt to give the Swiss-Colombian text a higher status, but this failed because of opposition from the ten. There was also resistance to the idea that Dunkel should present a report to the Punta del Este meeting on his own responsibility, and no agreement could be reached on this either. In any event, at the very outset of the PREPCOM, and at the instance of the U.S. and industrial countries it had been decided that the PREPCOM would have no report and that, besides the recommendations it was called upon to provide, there would only be summary records of the PREPCOM for the information of the Ministerial meeting. At the formal PREPCOM, both Switzerland and Colombia had suggested that their draft should be forwarded to Punta del Este as the basis for discussion by Ministers. The records of the meeting show that besides Switzerland and Colombia, eight other countries said they could cosponsor it, while 22 others supported the view, but with very different shades of opinion, that it should be the basis for Punta del Este. The ten EEC member countries ultimately (as a result of internal dispute) did not express their support to the paper, though the EEC spokesman is recorded as saying that it could not take the draft of the group of ten so long as it did not address the new themes, and that while the EEC was still studying the Swiss-Colombian text, "at this stage and under present circumstances his preference must go to the W/47/REV.2". An EEC press release issued at that time had however quoted the EEC spokesman as having told the PREPCOM that the various drafts did not show "a degree of convergence sufficient for them to serve as the basis for Ministerial discussions", and that even the Swiss-Colombian text which had received the "widest support" within the PREPCOM "gives rise to a number of difficulties for several members of the Preparatory Committee, among others certain developing countries, as well as within the community". This is not reflected in the summary records however. The summary records of PREPCOM show that 14 countries were against making the Swiss-Colombian text the sole basis for the Ministerial meeting, and wanted all three texts to be forwarded on an equal footing. Even if the EEC view is interpreted as supporting the Swiss-Colombian text, the summary records suggest that of the 92 GATT CPS, 41 are in favour of the Swiss-Colombian text, 14 are opposed, while the rest have not expressed themselves. When the PREPCOM ended on july 31, GATT officials had told newsmen that all three texts before the committee – a paper by the group of ten countries, the Swiss-Colombian paper, and an Argentine draft in the form of an amendment to the Swiss-Colombian text – would be forwarded to the Punta del Este meeting with a "factual letter of transmittal" from the chairman of the PREPCOM, GATT Director-General Arthur Dunkel. According to information provided by other GATT participants at that time, the Director-General had told the PREPCOM that his communication would be "a polite letter of transmittal", and that he would be consulting his "friends" (en euphemism for the about 20 countries who had been involved in informal consultations) on the terms of the transmittal letter. However, the summary records of the PREPCOM meeting of july 31, now circulated confidentially to CPS, has the chairman of the PREPCOM as saying that he would be drawing the attention of the Ministers to the drafts of the Ministerial Declaration "in the form of a short letter of transmission which would be prepared on his own responsibility, though he would be available for consultations on the form of this letter", and that the PREPCOM agreed to this. None of the delegations in the group of ten at least would appear to have been consulted over the terms of the letter, and several of them are now reported to have addressed letters to the Director-General, and wherever these letters have requested they are expected to be circulated to the GATT CPS as formal documents. The letter of transmittal is dated August 8, the complaints over it from the ten countries (yet to be published) appear to have been sent in the week of august 18, while the summary records of the PREPCOM meetings in july have been issued on august 26.