5:39 AM Sep 23, 1994


Geneva 22 Sep (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The Preparatory Committee for the World Trade Organization at its meeting Thursday heard assurances from the Quad countries about WTO ratification in time for a 1 January 1995 entry into force, but also heard warnings from the GATT chief that what counted were actions and not intentions.

The actual date for entry into force is to be set by the implementation conference due to meet in Geneva at senior officials level on a date between 6-15 December. The Preparatory Committee is due to meet again on 25 October, when it has to set the exact date for the "implementation Conference".

GATT Director-General and the Preparatory Committee Chairman, Peter Sutherland told the members Thursday that 25 October meeting would be a "watershed" and asked Marrakesh agreement signatories to speed up the ratification processes in their countries.

It is clear that before the Preparatory Committee, at its 25 October meeting, sets the date for the implementation conference, it would need firm ratification actions (and not expectations or intentions) from the Uruguay Round participating countries, and particularly the majors trading nations in the Quad.

Some 125 countries participated in the Uruguay Round negotiations. Of these some 104 signed the Marrakesh Final Act and 26 of these have either ratified or concluded domestic legislative processes for ratification of the WTO Agreement.

But none of the Quad countries -- the US, EU, Japan and Canada -- have so far ratified the WTO agreement.

All four plus Brazil outlined at Thursday's meeting the processes under way in their capitals and their confidence that all these would be completed in time for 1 January entry into force of the WTO.

The United States is still the key, with most others likely to act only after the completion of its process. The US Ambassador to GATT, Booth Gardner, reported that the implementing legislation was due to be formally sent up to the Congress from the White House over the next few days and they expected Congress to act on it before it ends its present term (15 October) and adjourns for the November elections.

US sources later said that they were now redrafting some of the provisions and they expect the final version of the bill to be ready and sent to Congress early next week. Its passage through the House of Representatives is expected to be quick, but could be touch and go in the Senate where it has first to agree to waive the Budget rules requiring any deficit to be made up by cuts elsewhere or taxes.

Earlier Sutherland, in a progress report spoke of his direct contacts and communication with member-states on speeding up ratifications. Sutherland said governments were moving in the right direction, but it was still a picture of governmental intentions rather than concrete results. He was particularly concerned about governments who, rather than being in a position to complete the processes over the next few weeks, may in fact be able to do so only in the latter part of November.

The European Commission's Jean-Pierre Leng, referred to the decision of the EU's July Summit on completing the ratification processes in time for the 1 January 1995 target date. The EU ratification procedures had started and the Commission was confident it would be completed in time.

But the EU ratification has been caught up in a jurisdictional dispute as to who is to ratify -- member-States or the executive Commission, and the role of the European Parliament in this. The EU's court is seized of the matter, but the Commission and Germany as the EU's current president are trying to strike a compromise with the Commission using this opportunity to assert its power and expand its jurisdiction over the member-States. Leng's remarks did not advert to these or clarify.

Brazil reported that the Marrakesh agreement had been translated into Portuguese and sent to Congress on 29 June. Congress had started the review before ratification and the government was hopeful it could be done before end of 1994.

Brazilian sources however noted that Congress was unlikely to act until after the Presidential elections, polling for which is due in October, with a second round in November in the event this becomes necessary.

Japan reported that an extraordinary session of the Diet had been called to open on 30 September and will last for 60 days. The Marrakesh Agreement and ten implementation bills will before the Diet and the Japanese delegate was confident that approval would be obtained during the special session of the Diet.

Canada reported that implementation legislation would be introduced in October in Parliament (which has resumed on 19 September) and would be passed in time for entry into force.

The Preparatory Committee also received progress reports from its four sub-committees on the progress of work. The Subcommittee on Institutional, Legal and Procedural matters is due to meet next week to tackle the difficult issue of the transitional arrangements between GATT 1947 and the WTO and its GATT 1994.