5:45 AM Jan 21, 1994


Geneva 20 Jan (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- Attempts of the United States and some others to bring new issues on the international trade agenda ahead of the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and to start a preparatory process for it appear to have received a setback at an informal Heads-of-Delegation level meeting of the Uruguay Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) Thursday.

The HOD meeting agreed that the Marrakesh Ministerial meeting should only have on its agenda the Uruguay Round Final Act and various decisions relating to it that have been agreed upon at the 15 Dec TNC, and measures to bring the WTO into being including the setting up of an Interim Committee for the WTO -- to replace the TNC which will cease to exist after Marrakesh.

In the run-up to Marrakesh, it was agreed that work will focus on verification of schedules of commitments, a legal exercise mainly by the secretariat to go over the Final Act texts to ensure internal legal consistency (and for revised text to be submitted and approved by the HOD meeting) and the development of a work programme on trade and environment to be adopted by the Ministers.

The Marrakesh meeting, a participant at the HOD meeting said later, can deal only with the "closure of the Uruguay Round" and interim measures till the WTO comes into being. Ministers would be free to flag any issue or indicate what the WTO should do in future, but no decisions can be taken. Only the WTO and the processes and mechanisms set by it can look at and decide on future course of negotiations, he added.

The Marrakesh meeting will also have to set a date for the WTO's entry into force -- and in terms of the Vienna Law of Treaties the minimum number of countries to ratify -- and set an Implementation Conference at Ministerial level.

Except for Japan and Switzerland, everyone appears to favour the WTO (and the various agreements) entering into force on 1 January 1995 -- which means that all participants should complete their ratification processes by that date. Japan wants a later date, 1 July 1995, on the ground of its parliamentary calendars and schedules -- its Parliamentary session reportedly starting in February -- but is being pressed by others to call a special session. Switzerland also wants later date set, because of its need to hold a referendum.

GATT Director-General and TNC Chair, Peter Sutherland, strongly discouraged efforts to bring other issues and said it would be unrealistic for anyone to attempt to negotiate before 15 April new issues that were not on the Uruguay Round agenda, and reflected in the Final Act texts.

There has been considerable talk of bringing on to the trade agenda issues like workers' rights and labour standards, competition policy issues and environment-related questions.

While there is already a GATT Committee dealing with trade and environment questions, attempts of the US and EC to create within the WTO Charter a Committee on Trade and Environment and set its mandate and programme was rejected by the others.

It was however agreed at the 15 Dec TNC, that a programme of work in this area (on Trade and Environment and promotion of Sustainable Development) will be developed and presented to the Marrakesh Ministerial meeting for adoption.

Thursday's HOD meeting brought out a strong resistance from most of the participants to go beyond this and set an agenda on this or other matters.

During his visit to Europe last week, President Bill Clinton called for inclusion of socalled social and environmental clauses in the WTO.

"The successor to the Uruguay Round must take account of the importance of environmental policies, anti-trust and competition policies and labour standards on trade," Clinton told a press conference in Brussels last week, with the EC Commission President Jacques Delors looking on approvingly.

In the context of the EC and the Maastricht treaty, and the GATT, Delors has last year voiced several times the need for social clauses.

However, earlier this week, EC Trade Commissioner Leon Brittan voiced opposition to labour and environmental standards in the trade agenda, warning that these are often protectionist devices.

The Brittan-Delors differences reflect the division within the European Union, with Britain refusing to accept social standards. But when the European Union resolves them, it would move nearer to the US, and developing countries should not rely too much on the initial EC reluctance, one source said.

In terms of the further work on the Uruguay Round, Sutherland on Thursday reiterated the 15 February deadline for the filing of various schedules -- schedules of tariff concessions, the schedules on agricultural commitments and the initial commitments on services -- and the process to be adopted for plurilateral and multilateral verification of schedules till end of March.

As per the decision of the TNC on 15 December, while "offers" on the table cannot be withdrawn or reduced, there is to be scope for "improvements" in the process until verification is concluded.

But one developing country delegate said that as of 20 January, more than a month after the 15 December TNC, there was no schedule of the US tariff concessions (as of 14 December) available, only its schedule of "intention" on tariff concessions -- thus providing the US with considerable leeway.