Dec 9, 1988


MONTREAL, DECEMBER 7 (IFDA/CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN)— The "Uruguay round" mid-term review meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee moved Wednesday morning into a phase of intense consultations in small groups among key protagonists and in an atmosphere of crisis, even as events outside appeared to rule out any major achievements here.

Some of the key ministerial protagonists are virtually out of office, and this reduces their negotiating capacity and confidence of others that what is negotiated will be implemented.

U.S. President-elect George Bush announced new U.S. Trade Representative, Carla Hills to replace Clayton Yeutter just at the midway point of the Montreal meeting here. And whatever public statements, the announcement appeared to have carried its own message here to other negotiators.

Some U.S. delegates were telling reporters here tuesday morning that Bush would not and should not name the successor at this point, since it would weaken Yeutter’s hand.

But within a few hours, even as delegates were reading news reports in the "financial times" from Washington about the ongoing search for Yeutter’s successor, the announcement came. And according to several U.S. reporters, their impression was that Yeutter got very little advance notice, just enough to enable him to make the usual statement of praise for the successor.

Yeutter here has been adopting a confrontationist approach and hanging tough, which at this stage is difficult to produce results.

EEC commissioner Willy De Clercq is also on his way out, and will be leaving office by the end of the year. His successor is expected to be Frans Andriessen Andersson, currently agricultural commissioner.

The new U.S. trade representative and the new EEC external relations commissioner would no doubt want to negotiate outside in a calmer atmosphere and find solutions rather than force a crisis here.

Federal German Trade Minister Bangemann is also due to leave office in Bonn and move to Brussels.

Several U.S. and EEC ministers are also leaving here Thursday afternoon or evening for U.S.-EEC talks. At one stage, GATT officials appear-to have tried to use this to pressure third world Ministers, several of whom reacted by saying that they too would leave Montreal on Thursday.

In this situation, it is difficult to see the United States and the EEC being able to agree any compromises on agriculture, though both could try to join hands against the third world on other issues. But even this is a risky business at this stage for either -- because third world ministers also know that neither the U.S. nor EEC representatives at this time can "deliver" and the commitments will all be on the part of the third world.

Indications are that negotiations will continue all of Wednesday and into the night, and that the TNC will wind up with whatever it can, perhaps with some face-saving declaration to show that things are on course.

That such an outcome could still be called a success has already been envisaged. On Sunday, GATT director general Arthur Dunkel told reporters that all the negotiating groups have already fixed their next meetings in January/February and this itself showed that the negotiations are on course.