Apr 14, 1988


BELGRADE APRIL 12 (IFDA/CHAKRVARTHI RAGHAVAN) The Ministerial session of the Global System of Trade Preferences (GSTP) Negotiating Committee continued general debate here Tuesday, as consultations continued outside the plenary hall on some outstanding problems.

These relate to the desire of three more countries -- Angola, Guyana and Zimbabwe -- to join the agreement ab initio, the issue of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the question of U.S. sanctions against Panama.

Angola, Guyana and Zimbabwe are not among the 45 countries that conducted bilateral negotiations with other participants, signed accords and filed their own schedule of concessions by Friday night.

On Saturday, the schedules from these 45 countries were opened and scrutinised at an informal meeting of the 45, prior to their finalisation and eventual multilateralisation.

On this basis, the annexe of list of participants in the agreement and the annexe of schedules of concessions were finalised and recommended by the senior officials to the Ministers for adoption.

The Ministerial session is due to formally adopt these and the Belgrade declaration Wednesday and the participating countries that have exchanged concessions will sign the agreement.

The request of the three countries, coming at this stage, to be allowed to join by concluding agreements and filing their schedules was reportedly considered at a meeting of the bureau on Monday evening.

Oliver Munyaradzi, Trade Minister of Zimbabwe, met a number of his colleagues here to explain the particular difficulties Harare had faced in concluding negotiations by the deadline and his country's desire to join the GSTP as a founding member.

The general view at the bureau would appear to be that at this stage some flexibility should be shown, and procedures evolved, to enable the three to join, while making sure that this that would not create any precedent and would fully respect the contractual nature of the agreement.

As some participants explained, with the schedules of concessions of the 45 participants having already been made public to them and to the GSTP committee members, the first round modality of countries negotiating bilateral accords, filing schedules and multilaterlising them would not be possible now.

The concessions now being granted by each of the 45 are known, and allowing the three to negotiate now with any one of the 45, file a schedule and gain the right to sign the agreement here -- thus joining ab initio -- would be unfair to those whose multilateral preferences are known but with whom any of the three would not be negotiating.

At the same time, the three should not be made to bear a burden higher than those that major trading nations of the 45 are assuming.

Given the modest nature of the concessions granted by most of the 45, and perhaps "skimpy" by some, Angola, Guyana and Zimbabwe

Should not be expected to negotiate with each of the 45, provide them concessions, and gain their consent to join -- the procedure that would apply when the agreement enters into force.

It would send the wrong political signal to other 'group of 77 (G77) countries which have not so far joined and are hesitating, and could be counterproductive for the long-term goal of the GSTP.

A middle road that has been suggested, and the one that will probably prevail, is for the three countries to "put on the table" for everyone of the 45 to see their list of offers or the concessions they would provide, and on that basis allow the three to file their schedules, unless there is abjection from any one of the 45.

As for the PLO issue, the Liberation Organisation has tabled a resolution asking GSTP participants to grant unilaterally their GSTP concessions to products of Palestinian origin, and enable the PLO to participate in the "committee of participants" -- the intergovernmental body of the agreement, consisting of the Contracting Parties to the agreement.

As regards Panama, Latin American delegations are consulting with each other and with others on a possible resolution, more or less on the lines of a recent resolution adopted by the Latin American Economic System (SEAL) that would come out against the coercive economic sanctions.

In the general debate, where speakers have assessed the outcome positively, a number of participants have stressed the need for wider participation of G77 countries in the GSTP.

As the Philippine speaker put it on behalf of the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), "with more countries participating, there is better chance for GSTP to have much wider product coverage and greater value in concessions exchanged."

A number of countries underscored the need to build upon the achievements here and maintain the momentum through a new round, while some, like the members of ASEAN, called for assessing the impact of the first round before embarking on the next. A number of participants also stressed the need for GSTP concessions to move beyond the product-by-product approach in the first round, and encompass all the components and modalities, and use of innovative mechanisms, for expansion of south-south trade.

A few countries also argued that procedural barriers standing in the way of Chinese participation in the GSTP should be removed, and China should be enabled to join as a full-fledged participant.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has offered to host the next Ministerial session, which will be that of the "committee of participants" of the agreement when it enters into force.

The offer was endorsed by the African group of countries and is expected to be accepted by the GSTP negotiating committee here._