Apr 7, 1988


BELGRADE APRIL 5 (IFDA/CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) Thirty-two countries have so far bilaterally exchanged concessions under the Global System of Trade Preferences (GSTP), it was stated here Tuesday on the eve of the opening Ministerial meeting of the GSTP Negotiating Committee.

On this basis, and the announced intentions of others, some GSTP Committee sources predict the final tally of countries which will have exchanged concessions and thus be able to sign the agreement may reach 50 out of the 66 member countries of the "Group of 77" (G77) who are taking part in the first round.

The Committee meets at Senior Officials level from Wednesday, and at Ministerial level from Monday next.

As regards the decision of the GSTP Negotiating Committee at Geneva in March, the time for participants in the first round to conclude their bilateral negotiations and exchange concessions is being kept open as late as possible, perhaps until the end of the Senior Officials meeting.

The aim is to give an opportunity to as many countries as possible to join the GSTP at its inception, by signing the agreement here at Belgrade.

Under the GSTP agreement, which is now being used as the provisional legal framework for the first round of negotiations, only those countries which have exchanged concessions and filed their schedule of concessions, will be able to sign the agreement.

These bilateral negotiations have been taking place in Geneva, and so far 10 more countries have concluded their negotiations, in addition to the 22 which had done so by March 4, the finals date for the second intensive phase of negotiations in Geneva.

The additional 10 are reported as Singapore, Pakistan, Iraq, Ecuador, Bolivia, Trinidad and Tobago, Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua and Ghana.

Side by side with the Senior Officials meeting, the bilateral negotiations are expected to continue here.

A number of African countries are expected to use the opportunity to reach agreements, as also are some of the remaining members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) group of countries -Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia.

With concessions negotiated and agreed upon bilaterally, when countries annexe their schedule of concessions to the GSTP agreement bilaterally and sign the agreement, the concessions will be automatically multilateralised on a mast-favoured-nation basis among all the participants, whose names will also be annexed to the agreement separately.

Some of the concessions exchanged at this stage by some of the countries are reported by GSTP sources as "token" and intended to enable the countries concerned somehow to join the agreement.

But, in respect of some of these countries, particularly those with large enough domestic markets which are trying to get a "free ride" for their own exports through the MFN process of concessions by others, but without extending any concessions themselves, the countries which have negotiated and extended such concessions could, at the time of ratification or acceptance of the agreement, invoke the non-application clause to deny such benefits.

This would not be known at the time of signing here, but only much later when countries ratify the agreement.

However, some GSTP committee sources say that even this might not happen at the stage of the first round, given the fact that most of the countries have exchanged only "modest" concessions, and have had the main aim of bringing in as many countries as possible into the GSTP, and starting the process of mutual trade preferences.

It is envisaged that at Belgrade a decision will be taken to launch the second round of negotiations for more substantial exchange of preferences and for deepening and widening the GSTP trade, with such a second round to begin as soon as the agreement is ratified and becomes effective.