12, 1988


BELGRADE APRIL 8 (IFDA/CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) Forty-five member countries of the "Group of 77" have concluded bilateral agreements for exchange of trade preferences in the first round of negotiations for the Global System of Trade Preferences" (GSTP), it was announced here Friday.

The deadline for concluding bilateral had originally been set for Thursday 17.00 GMT. But on Thursday, the Bureau of the meeting agreed to extend the deadline until 11.00 GMT on Friday.

The chairman of the Negotiating Committee, Marko Kosin of Yugoslavia, told a press conference Friday noon that the tally of countries that had concluded bilateral agreements had reached 45 a little before 11.00 hours.

He said the final tally would be known by Friday evening, once all the agreements are opened, and the countries concerned file their consolidated list of schedules of concessions with the secretariat.

Working group one is to meet Saturday morning to scrutinise all the lists -- of participants who have exchanged concessions and the schedule of concessions of each of them -- in order to annexe them to the agreement.

This will complete its work and enable it to report to the meeting of senior officials.

The senior officials are expected to hold their final plenary sometime Saturday, to receive the reports of the two working groups -- one an "unfinished" work an the agreement, the other on the Belgrade declaration -- and approve them and pass an the agreement, with completed annexes and the declaration, to the Ministerial session of the GSTP Negotiating Committee, which is due to, begin Monday morning.

By March 4 when the second intensive phase of negotiations ended in Geneva, countries had concluded bilateral accords.

To encourage more G77 members to join, the GSTP Negotiating Committee had agreed to put off the opening of the bilateral accords and consolidation of schedules until the latest possible at Belgrade.

A number of countries had since then been striving to reach accords in order to be able to join the agreement ab initio, and sign the accord here.

At Geneva, by the end of March 10 more countries had concluded their accords, and in Belgrade another 13 have done so.

Some of these may turn out to be very limited or taken accords, covering one or two products with one or two countries, so that the country concerned could file a schedule of its preferential tariff concessions and thus be eligible to sign the agreement.

The 45 countries are: Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Bolivia, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, South Korea, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Romania, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yugoslavia, Vietnam and Zaire.

A "political problem" that is engaging the time and attention of a contact group is the issue of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which is a full member of the G77 and of the GSTP Negotiating Committee.

So long as Palestine is under Israeli occupation, the PLO cannot fulfil commitments under the GSTP and provide preferential trade concessions to products coming from other GSTP participants.

It cannot thus file a schedule of concessions it will extend, and ensure its implementation. Without that, it cannot sign the agreement.

However, as a political gesture, the PLO wants to sign and join the agreement ab initio, and wants other GSTP participants to provide unilaterally the same concessions they give to GSTP participants to products emanating from occupied Palestine and exported through neighbouring countries with Palestinian marks of origin.

A number of GSTP participants are willing to make such a gesture, as a unilateral act, and for the Negotiating Committee to adopt a resolution to this effect.

While such a gesture as an unilateral and autonomous action of G77 countries might have some benefits for the Palestinians, to do this as a contractual obligation, in the circumstances of the PLO and Palestine, appears anomalous. But liberation movements seldom recognise such anomalies.

With the PLO keen to sign the agreement, consultations are under way to find a solution.

The other political problem of "Chinese participation" in GSTP is not, however, expected to be solved here.

Replying to a Chinese correspondent, Kosin told his press conference that the GSTP as formulated strictly restricted membership to the G77 countries that had exchanged concessions.

And though China was a "developing country", it was not a member a f the G77, and this was the "legal sticking point" that made it difficult for China to join the GSTP.

There was an understanding among G77 countries that China would be a desirable partner since it was a big country with a substantial market and with an economy that could contribute to improving third world economic growth.

Consultations were continuing to find ways of securing the cooperation of China in the GSTP, Kosin said.

One possibility was for China to become a member of the G77. But this was not agreeable to China, which wanted to preserve its individual identity. The second, namely, changing the terms of the agreement, was also proving impossible.

A third possibility emerging, Kosin added, was for China to preserve its separate identity and for the GSTP not to change the agreement. This could be done by establishing cooperation of China with GSTP by association.

GSTP participants were trying to find a practical and pragmatic solution.