Dec 7, 1988

INFORMAL NEGOTIATIONS ON HARD ISSUES BEGIN.

MONTREAL, DECEMBER 5 (IFDA/CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) The Ministerial level mid-term review meeting of the Uruguay round Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) is due monday evening to split into four small group accords over the next three days on some of to negotiate and reach ac and the. The most contentious issues dividing the north and the south major trading nations within the north itself.

There are 105 countries represented here, with over 900 delegates, including 90 Ministers and Vice-Ministers. Many of the major industrialised nations have several Ministers. Some third world countries have only their GATT Ambassadors, and sometimes their Economic Ministers leading them, with just one or two other aides. One country has an honorary consul in Montreal as the only delegates.

There are 54 countries led by Ministers, of whom 36 are from the third world, or "less developed Contracting Parties" -- which in GATT includes Israel, Turkey (an OECD member) and Hong Kong a British Crown Colony to be absorbed into China in 1997.

But unlike other earlier-GATT rounds and meetings, there is much greater involvement of third world countries, including their Ministers or senior officials from capitals.

The Montreal meeting began with a formal inaugural ceremony and address by Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who underscored both the Canadian approaches under its bilateral free trade agreement with the United States, as well as the GATT multilateral approach.

After the inauguration, the TNC began formally with Uruguayan Economy and Finance Minister Ricardo Zerbino taking over the chair and getting reports from the three bodies reporting.

It is GATT dogma, as strong as that of the Roman Catholic Church's dogma on the Virgin Mary, that the GATT is a contract among governments and there are no north-south divisions or gaps.

But a glance through the list of the delegations brings out the gap -- how well organised the industrialised countries are individually and groups of them, in their mutual fights and collectively vis-a-vis the south.

While the third world countries - meet informally from time to time, mainly for exchange of information or agreeing on persons to hold offices and posts, any effort on their part to unite on the major issues in these negotiations have been frowned upon, and major efforts made to keep them disunited.

But parallel to the conference here, so-called quadrilateral meetings -- amongst Canada, EEC, Japan and the United States -- have been taking place. While these have failed to break the deadlock on agriculture, the four are reported to be working on informal texts to be tabled on issues like intellectual property rights and services, where the south is being called upon to accept new commitments and agree to new international regimes and rules and principles that would foreclose their prospects of industrialisation and development.

However, many third world countries here say they are not ready to accept or make any concessions on any of these or change their views

On the negotiating mandate and agree to future directions for negotiations over the next two years. But what they would actually do.

Over the next three days, if they are presented with a joint position, remains to be seen.

Also many of the third world countries have publicly rejected any linkages between the negotiations and concessions an goods, and concessions by them on new themes -- intellectual property rights and services, or even major changes in the way GATT functions and is run.