7:04 AM Feb 28, 1994


Geneva 28 Feb (TWN) -- The United States filed on Friday last, 11 days after the final date set by the Uruguay Trade Negotiations Committee, its schedule on market access concessions and commitments in the Uruguay Round and this is being studied by its key trading partners.

The other three members of the Quad (Canada, EC and Japan) had also filed their schedules last week, but with an embargo on its circulation to others until the US schedules were also filed.

The delay was because of US-Japan disputes on the 'final' US offers on 14-15 December and 'withdrawal' by the US in mid-January of some of the 'offers' on electronics, which were said to be conditional on Japan agreeing to zero tariffs on wood and wood products, white spirits and non-ferrous metals.

The US decision to withdraw or revise its 'conditional' electronics offers, would also have affected some of the Asean countries and Korea which were also supplying the US market and these countries became considerably concerned.

But the US did not spell out its downward revision of offers on electronics, beyond saying that it would be in consumer electronics where Japan was a principal supplier, though at one stage there was talk that the US 'withdrawal' or 'adjustment' would involve a 20-30 billion dollar trade.

While much of the blame for the difficulties are laid at the doors of the US, it is clear that the GATT secretariat cannot escape some responsibility for the bungling, resulting in the TNC and the Uruguay Round participants not being advised on 15 December about the US failure to put 'final offers', without any conditions, on the table and not making clear on 15 December about the effects of the 'conditions' in earlier offers visavis his announcement that there could be no reduction or withdrawals of offers on the table.

At one stage the dispute threatened to unravel the market access concessions, with other partners reducing their own commitments, and thus reducing even more the already small trade concessions package in the Round -- both visavis the quad members among themselves and even more the other trading partners from the developing world who have all been forced to accept major obligations (in Trips, Services, and other rules) in the belief that they would get some compensating market-opening and trade opportunities.

The issue came to a head at the Quad meeting in Geneva on 13-14, after which Japan's chief negotiator Amb. Akao went public accusing the Americans of bad faith and breach of trust and threatening that Japan too would revise and withdraw some offers if the US went ahead in changing what Japan considered to have been the 'final offers' of the United States as of 15 December 1993 (when the negotiations officially concluded, and on the understanding that offers on the table could not be taken back or reduced but could only be improved upon).

At an informal heads of delegations meeting on Tuesday, GATT Director-General and TNC Chair Sutherland reportedly criticised strongly the US position, noting that the US itself had advised him that they had concluded the negotiations among the Quad whereas the actual detailed 'offers' communicated to the GATT secretariat on 13 January (but which should have been put on the table on 14 December) showed some 'conditional offers'.

At that meeting Japan itself played the issue in 'low key', while the Asean and others likely to be affected expressed their concerns vociferously, according to participants.

The US-Japan differences on the market access came at a time when the US and Japan were involved in the much bigger bilateral dispute arising out of their framework accord and the US threats to impose sanctions on Japan under a revived Super 301.

Over the weekend there have been reports that Japan was unlikely to withdraw or revise downwards some of their own offers. Japanese delegation sources in Geneva would only say that their schedules reflected their 15 December final offers and that they had not yet seen the US schedules and what it had actually done. The sources said they were unlikely to do any 'retaliation' and would prefer to settle the problem bilaterally.

Other sources, among developing countries likely to be affected, said they were still trying to study in detail the US schedules before deciding on their course of action.

Several of them have been withholding the filing of their own schedules until the US (and other Quad schedules) have been put in and they are able to scrutinise them. But having filed final (and unconditional) offers by 15 December, they might find it not so easy to take back.

But short of holding up the further processes to Marrakesh and/or raising the issue there, these countries may have little leverage. In the areas where the US was expected to retaliate, none of them have the 'initial negotiating rights', though they have benefited from the concessions exchanged between US and Japan.

One of the Asean delegations said they would have to weigh the overall advantages of concluding the negotiations with a successful Marrakesh meeting and any 'losses' in trading opportunities by a US adjustment or withdrawal.