Feb 24, 1992

DUNKELíS "WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY" CLOSED BY NEW HAMPSHIRE?

CARTEGENA DE INDIAS, 20 FEBRUARY (CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) -- The outcome of the New Hampshire Republican primary in the U.S. Presidential campaign, where the republican challenger to President Bush, Pat Buchanan, ended with over 40 percent vote may have closed the "window of opportunity" to conclude the Uruguay Round by mid-April.

This view is widely shared by diplomats from Industrial and Third World nations attending UNCTAD-VIII here.

The four-track negotiating process for concluding the Round, endorsed by the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) in January, envisages negotiations on market access, initial commitments on service being completed by mid-March, for country schedules to be filed by end-March, and for the negotiations to be concluded and initiated with the adoption of the Final Act by mid-April, between Ramadan and Easter holidays.

However, even as it was all the processes are running behind schedule. With the EC insisting on changes in the agricultural package, market access negotiations have already been held up.

There has been some talk in Geneva that after March 1, the date by which participating countries have to file their "offers" and schedules of "commitments" under Dunkelís agricultural package, some negotiations could take place to see how the EC's problems could be accommodated, and the negotiations concluded.

In this view, all the interested countries would work to ensure that the negotiations would involve limited changes in the agricultural package, and that the entire package is not reopened in the process and the package unravelled.

It was being suggested in Geneva, it was not clear whether there was a basis for it or it was mere wishful thinking that the U.S., the Cairns Group and the EC would find some accommodation.

But the New Hampshire outcome, where Buchanan campaigned against "free trade" and Bush's record, and the Republican voters cast a protest vote against Bush over the state of the economy, may have closed this prospect, diplomats say.

Arguing that GATT and NAFTA trade agreements would result in the loss of U.S. jobs and sovereignty, Buchanan tapped in on anti-free trade sentiments sweeping the U.S. electorate. Some reports from the election said that one-half of the voters for Buchanan were concerned about free trade.

An Op-ed piece in the Washington Post on 16 February had discussed how the Democrats were turning GATT against the Republicans.

It said that just as in 1988 Bush and Republicans had "a secret weapon in Willie Horton (the Massachusetts paroled convict), in 1992, Arthur Dunkel (the head of GATT) may well emerge as the Democratís secret weapon".

With Bush having received a big blow by the Buchanan showing, and being now forced to fight primary battles in the South and other primaries in March and April, and being forced to take a more right-wing stance to win support, it is virtually impossible for the U.S. administration to be seen as yielding to Europe or Japan on trade issues.

In this situation, the negotiations would have to be put into a deep freeze, and another attempt made only after the November U.S. Presidential elections, according to some observers.