5:55 AM Jul 25, 1994


Geneva 22 July (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The Preparatory Committee of the World Trade Organization endorsed the choice of Geneva as the headquarters of the WTO and tentatively targeted a meeting of the implementation conference envisaged in Part III of the Punta del Este Declaration during the period of 6-15 December.

The actual dates of the meeting at senior officials level is to be formally set by the Prepcom at its meeting on 22 October.

The Punta del Este Declaration launching the Uruguay Round, in Part III, decided that when the results in all areas had been settled, Ministers (as representatives of countries) would meet on the occasion of a Special Session of the GATT Contracting Parties (similar to the one for launching of the negotiations) to decide on the international implementation of the respective results of the Round.

But that was pre-empted by the Uruguay Round Agreement for establishing the WTO, annexing to it all the multilateral agreements and obliging to accept them as a package and for the WTO to be the institutional mechanism for the international implementation of all of them.

The implementation conference is now left with only two basics: setting a date for entry into force of the WTO and for the first meeting of the WTO's General Council and the special arrangements to be made about the GATT 1947, which for a while, atleast for the two-year period for those entitled to become original WTO members to complete their legal processes to join the WTO, will co-exist with GATT 1994 of the WTO.

If the WTO agreement had not been negotiated in such a hurry at the last stages of the Sutherland processes, and the normal UN treaty-making processes had prevailed, all these would have been written into the treaty's final clauses, the treaty repository would have been vested with some residual tasks and there would have been no need for the implementation conference.

The WTO agreement pre-empted the special ministerial meeting to decide on international implementation. But unlike other international treaties it has neither set minimum adhesions (in numbers or trade weightage or both) for entry into force or a date -- though the Marrakesh Final Act has suggested this should be 1 January 1995 or as soon as may be thereafter.

These tasks have been set for the implementation conference and it is expected to meet for a day or two, at level of senior officials meeting on the occasion of a Special Session of the GATT CPs.

Given past experience, it is clear WTO entry into force depends very much on the successful completion in the United States of its legislative processes. While no one expects a repeat of the Havana Charter experience, there is an unpredictability about the US and its processes.

And, within the EU (where Germany and the UK have completed their domestic legislative processes), the ratification also appears to depend on its internal decision -- whether the EU would ratify the WTO on behalf of all its member-States and join or whether individual members would ratify separately as also the EU as such and join. This may not be an issue of legal significance for outsiders but is part of the internal political struggle for power-sharing involving the EU's Executive Commission, the member States and its Council of Ministers, and the European Parliament.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh and Mexico have announced their ratification, bringing the total since Marrakesh to 24. Several countries who had signed the WTO at Marrakesh, and who had been put into the category of definitive signatures by the GATT secretariat, had since advised the secretariat that their signatures were subject to ratification, the GATT spokesman explained Friday.

At the Prepcom Friday, GATT Director-General Peter Sutherland stressed the need for all governments to complete their ratification as soon as possible, since this was central and critical to the implementation and entry into force of the WTO. There was genuine risk, he said, that those who did not press ahead with ratification, but were awaiting actions by others (a reference presumably to the US), would be overtaken by events.

The Prepcom earlier accepted the recommendation of its Sub-Committee on the choice of Geneva as the headquarters of the WTO, subject to the conclusion of the headquarters agreement, which is to be negotiated with Switzerland by a subcommittee, whose terms of reference were approved.

The country schedules (in goods, services and agriculture) of a number of Least Developed countries (who have a two-year period to do this) have also been scrutinised and verified: those of Bangladesh, Benin, Congo, Mauritania and Niger.

The working party on accession of Bulgaria (which had applied before Punta del Este), the Prepcom was advised, had been almost completed and Bulgaria is now to negotiate its acceptance into the WTO as original member. This too would be handled by the same working party.

The Croatian Republic (in the former Yugoslavia) is similarly said to be engaged in the same process.