9:41 AM Oct 25, 1994
WTO IMPLEMENTATION CONFERENCE ON 8 DECEMBERGeneva 25 Oct (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The Preparatory Committee for the World Trade Organization, at its meeting Tuesday morning, decided to set 8 December as the date for the meeting of the "implementation conference" which will meet at senior officials level and fix the date for entry into force of the World Trade Organization. The setting of the date, despite the uncertainties in the air over the US Congressional processes, has apparently been made on the basis of the view of the US administration and its confidence that the lame duck Congress to be called into session after the 8 November elections, would adopt the implementation legislation. GATT Director-General Peter Sutherland, who heads the prepcom, said the setting of the date for the implementation conference confirmed the confidence of everyone that the WTO would come into being on 1 January 1995. He pressed the governments yet to do so -- only 29 have so far ratified the WTO -- to complete all their processes in time so that from day 1, the WTO will come into being with the widest possible participation. A number of governments, he said, had indicated to him that they were in a position to complete the ratification processes by the time of the implementation conference. The implementation conference was originally conceived, in Part III of the Punta del Este Declaration, to be a meeting of Ministers of the participating governments, meeting on the occasion of a Special Session of the GATT Contracting Parties, when the results in all the areas of the Multilateral Trade Negotiations had been settled, to decide on the international implementation of the results. However, this was pre-empted by the decision to establish the WTO, annex all the Uruguay Round agreements to the WTO, require every participant to sign all the agreements and thus their implementation via the WTO route. At Marrakesh, it was decided that the implementation conference would meet at Senior Officials level and merely to set the date for the entry into force of the WTO -- the agreement not having set any requirement in terms of number of ratifications and other usual provisions or setting the date. As agreed Tuesday at the WTO Prepcom, the Prepcom will meet on 8 December first at senior officials level to set the date for entry into force, and immediately afterward a Special Session of the Contracting Parties to GATT 1947 would meet to act on the specific recommendations of the Preparatory Committee on issues that fall within the jurisdiction of the CPs. These relate to the transition arrangements and co-existence of the WTO and GATT 1947 for a time, on matters relating to the assets and liabilities of GATT 1947 to be taken over by the WTO etc. Before taking the decisions relating to the implementation conference and the agenda, the Prepcom heard reports from the Chairman of the various sub-committees -- Andras Szepesi the GATT CPs Chair in respect of matters falling within the jurisdiction of the Budget committee, from Amb. Kesavapani on institutional and legal questions and Amb. Felipe Lampreia of Brazil on the work of the Trade and Environment sub-committee. In his report, Kesavapani noted that in the discussions within his subcommittee on 'transition' questions, one delegation whom he did not identify (the USA) had said that simultaneously with entry into force of the WTO, it would withdraw from GATT 1947 and the Tokyo Round agreements. Kesavapani also reported that other delegations had expressed their concern over this, since it would leave those who need time to complete their domestic formalities -- and the Marrakesh decisions envisage a two-year period -- without any multilateral framework for trade relations. This issue is expected to be further debated within the Prepcom and the subcommittee headed by Kesavapani. Kesavapani reported that much progress had been made in settling the rules of procedure of the various WTO bodies, as well as the terms of reference, and on the rules of procedure of the Ministerial Conference. At its meeting on 3 November, the subcommittee is due to discuss questions relating to the relationship with the United Nations, and more particularly the UN Conference on Trade and Development. Also to be discussed and settled are issues relating to the transitional arrangements between GATT 1947 and the Tokyo Round agreements on the one hand and the WTO. Questions relating to the Appellate Board of the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body, whether they should all on whole-time basis or on retainers to be called whenever needed, the support staff are also to be discussed and settled. The Preparatory Committee also heard reports on progress of various services negotiations going on. The question relating to the "scope" of the GATS -- whether or not social security systems are to be covered, and whether or not dispute settlement systems under bilateral investment treaties are to be covered -- is yet to be agreed upon. Some of the industrialized countries want to "carve out" these two from the scope of the GATS, but others, particularly from developing countries are resisting any blanket provisions. In the area of maritime transport, where 37 countries are reported to be participating in the continuing negotiations, current discussions centre on the development of a draft schedule of commitments. The negotiations are to conclude by June 1996. In another area of negotiations, movement of natural persons as a mode of supply of services, some negotiations have been taking place and more are expected on bilateral basis. These negotiations are to conclude no later than six months after WTO entry into force. In financial services, where too negotiations are continuing, with participants who have filed schedules having an option at the end of the six month period after WTO entry into force, to revise their schedules (to improve on their commitments or enter MFN reservations, as the US has said it will), bilateral negotiations in various capitals and multilateral meeting in Geneva on 3 December are envisaged. In Basic Telecom, where negotiations are on a voluntary basis and is to conclude by April 1996, some 24 countries are now participating, with 26 others as observers. Discussions at the moment are reportedly centred on the answers provided by participants to the questionnaire that has been circulated. On trade and environment, Lampreia reported that he would be holding informal consultations on the question of an agreement on exports of domestically prohibited goods, on observer status for inter-governmental organizations and appropriate arrangements for relations with non-governmental organizations. Lampreia reported that on the last two issues, he would be coordinating with consultations being held on the other WTO bodies. Other issues that figured before the Prepcom included the progress in negotiating a headquarters agreement with Switzerland.