6:40 AM Jun 1, 1994


Geneva 1 Jun (TWN) -- The Preparatory Committee for the World Trade Organization agreed Tuesday on a multilateral process for scrutiny and acceptance of country-schedules (in goods and services) of countries qualified and wishing to join the WTO as original members, but whose schedules have not been examined and annexed.

The Prepcom also named Amb. Kesavapani of Singapore to chair its subcommittee on institutional, procedural and legal matters, including the examination and approval of schedules in such cases.

Meanwhile, Switzerland and Germany are informally canvassing the Prepcom members on their offer to host the World Trade Organization in their countries.

At a meeting last week of the Prepcom subcommittee on Administrative, budgetary and financial matters, the German delegate is reported to have advised that his government had now officially decided to invite the WTO to set up its headquarters in Bonn.

The decision on accession covers the cases of participants in the Uruguay Round who were not contracting parties to the GATT on 15 April 1994 (when the Final Act was adopted and signed at Marrakesh), the least developed countries who have a year's time to file their schedules.

The Prepcom has been mandated to deal with these cases, as well as those seeking accession and their applications are pending before working parties.

In all these cases, along with the bilateral negotiations of the countries concerned on schedules in goods and services, a multilateral process, similar to that done in the preparations leading to the Marrakesh meeting for the GATT CPs, has been agreed to. The secretariat will organize these consultations to ensure periodic monitoring of progress and maximum of transparency.

It will cover cases of the LDCs, who submit schedules between now and entry into force of the WTO, of those who have acceded to the GATT under Art XXVI:5 (c) as former colonies applying de facto GATT, but who had not been able to establish their schedules for the GATT 1994 and GATS. The Prepcom has to approve these schedules to enable countries to become original members of the WTO.

The decision Tuesday also covers those who signed the Final Act in Marrakesh and wish to join the WTO, but are in the process of negotiating access to the GATT 1947, such as China which also attached a schedule on goods and services provisionally at Marrakesh.

On the headquarters issue, while Germany has not officially put forward what conditions and terms and benefits it will offer, diplomats say Germany is quite serious and is trying, by offering very favourable terms for both the WTO and diplomatic missions, to inveigle countries.

There is a general reluctance on part of the diplomatic missions to move to Bonn, thus isolating themselves from the wider multilateral processes in Geneva, the second UN headquarters. Many developing countries, and more so least developed countries, have common missions to the GATT and with personnel who also look after other UN system organizations here.

The Swiss efforts to get the WTO to stay on in Geneva (whose economy benefits from the presence of so many UN organizations and agencies, and the diplomatic and international staff) appears to have run into the larger conflict over host-country relations.

The differences cover a range of irritants of the foreign diplomatic community and Swiss practices not in accord with the Vienna conventions on diplomatic missions and their privileges.

One such, the problems of diplomats and their domestic household staff (that they bring from their countries) have attracted much media attention and adverse publicity in the Swiss media, with a Geneva labour group taking up such cases, and insisting on the household staff brought by a diplomat being paid Swiss scale wages, bringing pressure through media attention.

It is a common practice, and more so among Third World diplomats, to recruit and bring from their country limited number of domestic or household staff (cooks, attendants etc), with the government of that country settling the terms of the contract, wages to be paid, and other conditions. Apart from the cost savings, issues of confidentiality and security in diplomatic households are also involved.

Most host countries, whether hosts of multilateral organizations or as countries to which the diplomats are accredited, generally accept these, taking into account some 'hidden perquisites'.

Switzerland however does not, and insists that such staff must be paid Swiss wages and the 'contracts' subject to Swiss approval. This, several Third World diplomats say, would mean paying cooks or domestic staff higher wages than what the Heads of State or Governments in their countries get.

But apart from these, there are also other long-standing issues of irritance on which the entire diplomatic community appears to be critical of the Swiss authorities.

Diplomats object to having to pay and buy petrol and paying local taxes. Unlike other countries where the diplomats, on showing their identity, automatically don't pay such taxes or get refunds. But Switzerland allows this "tax-free privilege" only for petrol purchased in stipulated pumps. There are only 40 such pumps all over Switzerland, one Third World diplomat said.

Diplomats also object to their being subject to the Swiss "icha", or Federal turnover/sales tax on all products of about 6-1/4 percent, in violation of diplomatic practices and immunities.

The Swiss also do not issue 'legitimation' cards for dependent children of diplomats of over 21 years or dependent parents.

All these accumulated grievances have to come to a head now. At a meeting last month of the host government and the committee of the diplomatic community, the Swiss authorities reportedly came in for severe criticism from all groups of countries - South, North and East.