8:16 AM Mar 16, 1994


Geneva 15 Mar (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- Even before the Uruguay Round agreements, after seven long years of negotiations, and its envisaged World Trade Organization come into effect, the United States appears to be pushing for new 'trade agendas'.

At a GATT consultation Tuesday, involving some 21 delegations, the US appears to have pushed hard for the preparatory committee for the WTO (to be established at the Marrakesh Ministerial meeting) to have as its terms of reference discussion on these new issues and trade agendas.

The Uruguay Round itself is a legacy of the Reagan-Bush era in the United States. It was promoted and launched during the Reagan era when, by attaching the 'trade-related' label before subjects, and calling them as issues relating to trade-distortion, new issues like services, intellectual property rights and investments were brought on to the GATT agenda.

US President Bill Clinton, wanting to put his own stamp on the 'trade front' has already flagged some new issues as trade-related issues and for setting global standards relating to environment, labour and social questions, and thus enable raising disputes and engaging in trade retaliation to secure enforcement. Some US officials have also been talking of linking trade and human rights related standards.

The trade-environment issue is to be addressed as a work programme.

It has created some divisions between the North and the South, between genuine environmental groups and the protectionist groups linking their activities to the environment banner.

A group of Northern NGOs and three or four international groups and their local affiliates have recently issued a statement pressing for a wider trade-environment work programme.

The Third World Network, which undertook a coordinating role for Southern NGOs in the runup to the Rio Earth Summit and at the Summit itself, is in the process of issuing a separate position paper which differs from some of the Northern NGO positions.

While the European Union has taken some equivocal positions, the EC Trade Commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan (who is campaigning to succeed EC Commission President Jacques Delors) appears now to be promoting a policy paper for approval of the Commission and the EU Council of Ministers trying to address the labour and social issues visavis trade.

The developing countries are opposed to these new issues.

But as in the runup to the launching of the Uruguay Round, many of the NICs and others from the developing world, in the consultations here, have not publicly taken a strong position inside the GATT, though their leaders in the capitals have come out very strongly and unequivocally.

At Tuesday's consultations, the US would appear to have said that in deference to the general view of participants that the Marrakesh ministerial meeting to sign the Uruguay Round accords should be kept non-controversial, the US had refrained from raising the various new issues.

But these issues would have to be addressed, and as a start the preparatory committee to be set up at Marrakesh to smoother the implementation and bringing into being of the WTO should begin to discuss a new work programme and trade agenda for the WTO.

Mexico and India objected to this and called for a moratorium on the new issues until the Uruguay Round and its results are implemented and digested.

When the US tried to pressure by stating that it would then be forced to raise these issues at Marrakesh itself, India reportedly sharply retorted that the US Trade Representative could raise any issue he deemed fit in his intervention there, but neither the Marrakesh meeting nor the preparatory committee take up any of the work programmes proposed.

Other developing country delegates present did not apparently speak up, though several of them privately said later that the Indian stand also represented their view.

But it is not clear why they did not then intervene to say so, particularly since the US "agenda" has been very much talked about and none of them could say they were taken by surprise and needed instructions from their capitals or groupings.

Indian sources privately said that in terms of trade union and workers' rights and collective bargaining and organizing, unlike some of the developing countries, Indian laws and standards were as good as those of the industrial world, even though there might always be problems about enforcement.

However, they said, they were opposed to this attempt to enlarge the jurisdiction of the WTO and the rule-based trading system with issues that ought to be dealt with elsewhere, and which are sought to be brought into the WTO mainly and purely to provide a cover for protectionism by the North.