7:16 AM Feb 23, 1994


Geneva 22 Feb (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The United States said Tuesday that it had resolved its disputes with Japan over tariff cuts and would be filing its schedules of market access, which it claimed have been held up for 'technical' problems, would be filed with the GATT by Friday.

The European Union was due to file its own schedule, with some parts left blank, Tuesday evening, Canada on Wednesday but with stipulation it should be not made available to others and Japan also by Friday.

But US trade partners in the Quad (Canada, EC and Japan) as well as other trading nations involved in the US efforts to withdraw or claw back its cut tariff offers in electronics remained wary.

Last week, Japan was unusually blunt in charging the US with lack of 'good faith' and 'breach of trust' in attempting to revise its 15 'final offers'. On Monday, the EC Commission officials in Brussels had said that the US was behaving in an "un-GATT like way", while in private some of them said that the US was trying to "cheat".

The 117 participants in the Uruguay Round were supposed to have filed their market access schedules in goods -- tariff and non-tariff concessions and schedules in agriculture -- by 15 February.

But by 22 February, the GATT secretariat said that only 22 countries had filed their schedules of which only 14 had provided them in full and according to the agreed format.

At an informal heads of delegations (HOD) meeting summoned by GATT Director-General Peter Sutherland the failure of the Quad to file their schedules and the attempts to go back on the commitment that 'offers' on the table on 15 December could not be taken back, but could only by improved, in filing the schedules, were discussed.

Sutherland and other participants voiced their concerns over the Quad's delay and failure to meet the deadline because of the US position and delay, with Sutherland stressing that the understanding about not taking back or reducing the 15 December offers, but only increasing them, should be observed by everyone.

While the meeting itself was limited to the delays in filing market access schedules and the US position, India reportedly announced that it was having problems with the schedules of one of the delegations (a reference to the US) over its schedules of initial commitments on services which had put in new limitations than those negotiated, and that India reserved its position to bring it up at the next HOD meeting or even ask for a TNC meeting.

The US claimed at the Tuesday meeting, and US acting chief of mission, Andrew Stoler told the press before and later as he left the GATT building, that the delay in the US filing of its schedules was due to 'technical reasons' of detailing the US tariff concessions according to its latest tariff line and product descriptions, and that the schedules would be in by Friday. Stoler also said that US dispute with Japan over the tariff cuts had been resolved, and there was no dispute now.

But both Japan, and other partners, remained wary, hoping that the US was giving up its attempts to take back the concessions on some electronic products on the ground that its 15 December offer was conditional on Japan doing more on wood and wood products, non-ferrous metals, white spirits and one or two other sectors.

Tran Van-Thinh, the EC's chief delegate told the press that the EC was due to put in its schedules, held up because of the US position and the Quad agreement (on 13-14 February) to put in their schedules simultaneously, but that it would have some gaps on wood and wood products, electronics, non-ferrous metals, trucks and white spirits.

Before going into the meeting Tran told newsmen that there was an exchange of offers and understanding among the Quad partners on 15 December on what was finally on the table, and if this 'global balance' was upset it could provide serious as it could unravel the entire agreement and the further process.

While formally not challenging the US explanations of 'technical difficulties' for the delay, which had forced others to delay their own filing, delegates seemed to remain unconvinced that with all its computerised systems and expertise that the US International Trade Commission had found difficulties in translating its 'offers' into the latest US tariff-line classifications.

Even more, the US explanations failed to put a quietus to the controversy that the US was going back on the TNC decision that negotiations had ended on 15 December and that while participants could always improve on their market access offers they could not take back what was on the table on that date.

While Stoler said that the tariff cut dispute with Japan had been resolved, it was not clear whether this meant that the Japanese always knew that the cuts offered on electronics products were conditional on Japan doing better on wood and wood products, white spirits and non-ferrous metals and hence had accepted the US withdrawal of the concessions and would not revise its own offers (as had been threatened last week by Japan's Amb. Akao) or that the US would not withdraw these concessions.

Japanese sources merely would say that they would be filing their schedules on the basis of the Quad's understanding of the offers exchanged on 15 December being the final offers and hoped that the US would not be going back.

In any event, the Japanese sources said, this was not a US-Japan problem, but one involving other trading nations including the EU, Asean and the TNC decision of 15 December that the negotiations had been concluded and offers on the table were final and could not be taken back, but could only be improved in the filing of schedules and the verification process.

When the negotiations were concluded on 15 December at the Trade Negotiations Committee, the 15 February deadline was set for filing schedules, but as of 22 February none of the Quad (Canada, EC, Japan and the United States) had done so.

After a week of private grumbling and complaints, and pressures from the GATT head, the HOD meeting was summoned over the delay and what other trading partners saw as the 'sharp practices' of the United States in trying to claw back clinched final offers of 15 December had begun to cause concern among other trading partners and was threatening to unravel the agreements.

An Asian delegate said that they also had an interest in the concessions over electronics products and would wait to see the actual US schedules and take it up during the verification exercise.

Another Third World delegate said while during the negotiating process, delegates had put forward 'conditional offers' which were circulated plurilaterally to others with 'offers', the understanding about the 15 December final offer deadline, was that any conditional offers would be withdrawn and substituted.

It would have been open to the US, for example, in view of Japan's position on wood and wood products or white spirits, to have modified and tabled its revised offers on electronics products before 15 December. But it was not in the spirit of the understanding to file an offer in mid-January revising downwards what had been tabled and left on the table by 15 December.

Several delegates were also critical of the US tactics.

As one of them, speaking on background basis, put it Tuesday evening the US style of operations and negotiations under the Clinton administration and its Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, as exampled by its latest spat over what it did or did not agree to by the 15 December deadline, has created a dent in the confidence with which GATT negotiators deal with each other in private. "It is no longer a 'club of gentlemen', if the (Bush administration USTR Carla Hills') crow-bar approach is being supplemented by the (Mickey Kantor) sharp practices of a used-car salesman," he said.