Apr 8, 1992


GENEVA, APRIL 6 (CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) GATT Director-General Arthur Dunkel would appear to have attempted Monday to disclaim that there was any mid-April deadline for concluding the Uruguay Round negotiations.

Dunkel, who is the Chairman of the official-level meetings of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), was addressing a meeting of the informal group of Third World countries in GATT and reportedly told them that the TNC had never set a mid-April deadline and that he had only said that the negotiations should end in 1992.

If the Uruguay Round accords are to enter into force on January 1, 1993 (as envisaged in the draft Final Act) and working backwards to give time for the legislative processes, it is necessary to conclude the negotiations and initial the agreements by Easter plus or minus a few weeks, Dunkel reportedly said.

Dunkel also reportedly told the delegates that the March 31 dates for filing of schedules in market access in goods, agriculture and for initial commitments in services had been set by the chairmen of the negotiating groups (German Denis of Canada in the negotiations for market access in goods and by Felipe Jaramillo of Colombia for services).

Trade observers noted that while Dunkel might be formally correct in saying that no mid-April "deadline" had been set in the TNC, if all his statements and that of GATT spokesmen and officials since December were read together, there could be little doubt that the GATT and the Uruguay Round participants had been working to a mid-April deadline which they perforce have to miss.

That was the deadline generally talked about in GATT for a final Ministerial meeting to initial the Draft Final Act, incorporating the Uruguay Round agreements and the Multilateral Trade Organisation (MTO) as an institutional framework, so that the necessary legislative processes could be set in motion and the agreements brought into force by 1 January 1993.

The Multifibre Agreement was extended till 31 December 1992 precisely on the basis that the Uruguay Round accord in this area would become effective from 1 January 1993.

At a press conference on 10 January (following a green room meeting where the scenario for the Uruguay Round process for concluding the Round on the basis of his proposals in the Draft Final Act was set), Dunkel had noted that by 31 March it was envisaged that the market access negotiations in goods would have been concluded and the results incorporated into the package.

He had then gone on to add that from the international calendar of events the time for concluding the Round and initiating the Final Act would be after Ramadan and before Easter.

And while no formal announcements were ever made or dates ever set, GATT participants (based on informal discussions including in the green room) had said that the final meeting on the Uruguay Round, scheduled to be held in Rabat, Morocco, was being thought of in those terms to be held after 5 April and before 15 April.

And though Dunkel at the informal meeting of developing countries suggested that the 31 March deadline for filing schedules had been set by the chairmen of the negotiating groups concerned, at the 13 January TNC meeting he had announced the dissolution of all the earlier negotiating structures, and made clear that the further negotiations were to be "global" and under the TNC.

Even the Draft Final Act, tabled by Dunkel before the TNC on 20 December, had set 1 March as the date by which the participants had to file their schedules of commitments in agriculture.

Dunkel reportedly claimed at the meeting with developing countries that some progress was being made in the negotiations in tracks one and two of the process - in the negotiations for market access in goods and for initial commitments in services - as also in track three for cleaning up the text of the draft final act to ensure proper legal language and internal consistency.

Responding to concerns and criticisms voiced about U.S.-EC bilateral talks outside of the GATT for changes in the substantive texts (which were to be undertaken in terms of Dunkel's process in the fourth track), Dunkel reportedly assured the developing country group that there would be no attempt to present and push through such a U.S.-EC bilateral accord for changes, but that any such accord would have to be placed before the TNC for its consideration and decision.

Earlier, India's Amb. Balkrishan Zutshi reportedly pointed out that though they were engaged only in tracks one, two and three, some of the participants were in fact seeking substantive changes by the way they had submitted or filed drift schedules (for agriculture) and in other particulars, as well as in the "cleaning up" exercise in track three.

The issue of substantive changes would thus have to be faced head-on, Zutshi reportedly told Dunkel. The track four processes for changes could not be selectively used and if there was to be any attempt to change one part of the package to suit someone, other parts of the package could by reopened by others.

Uruguay and Brazil in other comments, said that changes in the draft act (envisaged under track four) were being done indirectly. "We don't want to be taken by surprise by resort to these methods", Brazilian Ambassador Celso Amorim reportedly said. Uruguay's Amb. Julio Lacarte-Muro also made a similar point and urged Dunkel to squarely identify the U.S. and EC as the two parties responsible for holding up decisions.

Dunkel was somewhat non-committal and said that the TNC was on call but that he had not yet decided on convening it.

GATT sources said that Dunkel was due to hold green room consultations later this week and in the light of it would convene a TNC meeting to take stock and agree to the course of action he would propose.

The GATT officials and some others appear to be clinging to the hope that the planned meeting later in the month between EC Commission President Jacques Delors and U.S. President George Bush in Washington could lead to a compromise to enable the conclusion of the Round this year.

But even if this does come about, and an agricultural compromise is struck between the two which they could force on others, at least six to eight weeks would be needed thereafter to complete the negotiations for market access in goods as well as for initial commitments in services, participants in the Round note.

As of now the two negotiations have ground to a halt because of the stances of the U.S. and EC on agriculture and industrial products as well as on services.

This would mean that the negotiations and preparing the agreements would not be possible before mid-May or early June, and would imply the agreements being held up in Washington till after the U.S. elections to be sent to a lame-duck Congress and pushed through.

Whether other trading partners would like to put themselves in such a scenario and U.S. domestic politics is not so certain.

But it is clear that at the moment neither the U.S. nor the EC are willing to acknowledge the stalemate on the Round and the failure of the process so far and are compelling Dunkel to go through the motions of negotiations.