5:50 AM Jul 21, 1994


Geneva July 20 (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The United States was rebuffed Wednesday in the GATT Council over its attempt to get the GATT Council debate the ruling of the second dolphin-tuna panel report with the participation of the dolphin-lobby NGOs.

All the delegates who spoke opposed the US move.

Several later said the US move was a one-shot affair and a cheap, playing-to-the-gallery attempt to win over US 'save-the-dolphin' environment lobby and that if the US had been really serious about improving 'transparency' in the GATT and future WTO decision-making processes, it should start at the rule-making beginning and not at the final dispute settlement end.

But in a body where delegates deal with each other as 'gentlemen' and 'diplomats' thus hiding considerable mercantalist and harsh power-play, no one clearly put the issue on the table, merely deriding the US move.

The US proposal, by its new GATT ambassador Bruce Gardner, came when the Council took up the ruling of the panel that ruled against the US on the European Union's complaint against the US measures banning tuna fish and processed products imports from countries that do not apply similar restrictions on countries alleged to be fishing tuna and endangering lives of dolphins.

The US primary ban applies to countries that do not meet US standards on tuna fishing practices -- standards related to the number of the average catches of dolphins by US tuna fishing boats in a particular year, determined at the end of the season.

The second panel report, as that of the first, has been greeted with cries of outrage by a range of US and European 'save-the-dolphin' environment groups.

US Trade Representative, Mickey Kantor, who had released the copies of the draft to US groups ahead of its being finalised and presented to GATT Contracting Parties, had said at that time that the US would challenge the panel's failure "to provide a fair hearing and due process" -- presumably to interested NGOs.

One of the panellists, Austrian Ambassador Winfried Lang, is reported to have similarly discussed the panel's findings (before it was finalised and adopted) with several European NGOs, including a UK-based group, to make the point of the uphill battle he had within the panel in the conflict between trade and environment issues.

This had figured indirectly at the last Council meeting when Canada, without naming Lang, had made an indirect reference to argue for a code of conduct for panellists -- a proposal that the US had made originally, though from a different viewpoint of panellists seen to be having no 'conflicts of interest'.

But there was no reference to this at the Council. Lang, in the absence of the panel chairman, George Maciel of Brazil, had introduced the panel report to the Council on Wednesday and said that the panel had not found fault with the US efforts to protect the environment, but only of the methods used.

Even before the panel report had been circulated to other GATT CPs, environment groups in the US and Europe, who had copies, have been debating it in public and criticising it. Several of these groups had participated in the June GATT-organized symposium on trade and environment and had turned the wider issues of trade-environment links into one relating to the tuna-dolphin issue.

This had provoked several other environment groups, from the South and the North, with one of the Southern NGOs asking the Americans why, if they loved the dolphins so much and wanted to save them, they don't stop eating tuna, ban their own tuna fishing boats and apply a similar (GATT-legal) restrictions on all tuna imports.

When the Council on Wednesday took up consideration of the panel report, US ambassador Bruce Gardner did not address the substance of the issue and the panel ruling, but spoke of the need for 'openness' of the GATT and not be seen as a 'closed process' inducing hostility among environment groups. He proposed that the Council should put off discussion of the report till its next meeting, to which interested environment groups should be invited to present their views.

Gardner's proposal, seen as a one-shot affair to take the heat off the administration and its efforts to get the Marrakesh agreement through Congress against opposition of environment NGOs, did not elicit support from any other member.

The EC Commission's chief delegate, John Pierre Leng, said the US move would do poor service to the GATT Council and the EU did not want it to appear that there was the slightest sympathy in the Council to the move. The initiative was 'unreasonable' and the idea of having environmentalists in the room to debate the issue could be followed by invitations to other interest groups like farm unions to join the dispute settlement discussions.

Others who spoke also opposed the US, many deriding it.

India's Amb. Balkrishan Zutshi said that such a decision-making process could be appropriate at the level of a village or a city-state, but not at the inter-governmental levels, while Brazil's Jose Graca Lima dismissed the idea as "inappropriate, impractical and unreasonable".

New Zealand delegate said he did not believe any encounter with the NGOs would be particularly enlightening. Australia, the Nordics, Asean, Canada, Argentina and Mexico were among the others who also spoke disagreeing with the US proposal.

On the substance of the ruling, with the US stance clearly one of opposition, the Council took no action. It will come up at the next Council meeting in October (see separate story for detailed report).

On other items on the agenda, the Council again found itself unable to take any action on the second banana panel ruling against the EC whose adoption has been blocked by the EU.

Guatemala raised the issue on behalf of itself, Ecuador, Mexico and Panama and complained that the EU had not only discriminatory tariff-quotas, but was not engaging in a dialogue to address the wider ramifications of the dispute. The EU took note of it.

The Council earlier agreed to the request of Vietnam for observer status.

The report of the working party on the accession of Slovenia was adopted, and the protocol has been put to a vote of the Contracting Parties. Thirty days after its acceptance by twothirds majority of the CPs, Slovenia would be able to sign the accession protocol. Meanwhile, it is also pursuing the question of accession to the WTO.

Brazil brought up the question of implementation of an outstanding panel ruling against the US -- the MFN treatment to be provided to imports of non-rubber footwear from Brazil. The Brazilian delegate however suggested that the issue might be nearing resolution.

On the enlargement of the EU -- due to take place with the accession of Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden, the last three subject to referenda due to take place -- a number of countries raised questions relating to the effect of the expansion on the other contracting parties including the re-negotiation of schedules.

The United States, Brazil and several others pointed out that the limited time-frame between ratification and implementation would leave little time for the renegotiations. A number of developing countries -- India, Asean, Brazil, Uruguay and Hong Kong among others -- voiced their concerns on the effect of enlargement. Some of the countries due to join the EU do not apply MFA restrictions, whereas the EU does and would apply EU-wide single-market quotas.

Under any other business, the EU said that it had concluded free trade agreements with the Baltic States and these would be notified to GATT.

Mexico and Austria reported that their legislative authorities had ratified the Marrakesh agreements.

Austria, supported by several others (including Asean, Hong Kong, EU, Switzerland and Sweden), complained against introduction by Mexico of a system of certificates of rules of origin on some 300 items. The requirement due to have been put in force on 1 July has now been postponed to December.

All the countries complained that the requirements were extremely complex, that the system of certification involved filling complex forms and providing documents which would be difficult for a large majority of importers or exporters. The Mexican requirements were viewed as contrary to GATT obligations

Mexico however insisted that its rules were in line with GATT obligations, that it had given time for exporters to adapt to the system, and that it was an attempt to find solutions to pressing problems faced by Mexican industry.