10:36 AM Nov 30, 1994
WTO PREPCOM HAS MANY UNDECIDED QUESTIONSGeneva 30 Nov (TWN) -- The Preparatory Committee for the World Trade Organization is due to meet Wednesday afternoon -- but without any decisions on a number of pending substantive issues. Meanwhile, the Chairman of the GATT CPs, Andres Szepesi of Hungary is due Thursday to resume his consultations to pick a head for the GATT/WTO, but seemingly the race is still deadlocked. While the deadlock over the choice of the head of the Paris-based OECD has been broken, this will not necessarily lead to a solution over the WTO head, one key trade diplomat said, adding that the problem may not be solved until the WTO comes into force. The current GATT chief, Peter Sutherland, whose contract formally runs till July next, might still be forced to continue for a while -- even though he has made clear he does not want to continue. On the preparatory work, a draft report to go from the Prepcom to the WTO -- which is mainly a document on the format of the report and listing the various items -- suggests that over two score points and sub-points for decision, with several of them listed as forwarded to the WTO for decisions, and others pending decisions. But the inability to take substantive decisions on many of the issues is only partly because of the pending vote in Washington. While the House of Representatives has approved the implementation bill by a comfortable 288-146 majority, there was never any doubt about that. The crucial vote still is in the Senate and that too, not on the bill where only 50 yes votes of the 100-strong Senate are needed (Vice-President Gore as Chairman of the Senate can provide the tie-breaker yes vote), but on an earlier budget waiver vote where 60 votes are needed. But till the US vote and the doubts over US ratification are put to rest, several of the substantive questions on which some decisions have to be reached, have been tacitly put aside, and even informal consultations have been put on the back-burner. But there are also a number of other issues where there are substantive differences and several of them may have to be put off until after the implementation conference next week which would be setting the date for entry into force, while some others may have to await the entry into force of the WTO and its General Council takes over from the Prepcom. Some of these pending issues involve difficult questions, but need solutions before the entry into force. These include questions about the transition arrangements -- whether the GATT 1947 and the WTO and its GATT 1994) would co-exist, for how long and under what conditions. Some others have already been flagged as needing more detailed consultations and negotiations that would stretch into the New Year -- such as the question of the headquarters agreement between the WTO and the Swiss authorities. Others are proving to be thorny, and involve real trade interests and efforts of the participants to ensure that their understanding of the accords are reflected in the implementation. An item, for example, relates to the notification requirements under the Agriculture Agreement where countries have filed schedules (of market access concessions, AMS value and the annual reductions of domestic support, and export subsidies and reductions in volume and budget outlay. The informal contacts on this issue appears to have left unresolved the details of the notification requirements on the export subsidy issue, for example. The Cairns group members have expressed concern that both the United States and the European Union might be able to easily fudge their figures and hide the actual subsidised exports. One trade official suggested that while these are thorny and difficult, they are no more than similar problems faced in countries when the implementation of a legislation requires detailed rules. These problems can't be easily negotiated, and have handled in small groups of interested parties, and formal meetings like that of the Prepcom and its subcommittees are really 'transparency' exercises to advise the general membership of the state of play, he said. But 'transparency', one international civil servant who did not want to be named said, has become quite a buzz-word and appears to mean many things to many people. These days when democratically elected governments talk of transparency or when officials and government representatives in international organizations speak of 'transparency', what is really meant is "we will cut deals and reach decisions in private but without much public discussion, and come announce it to you -- but not all the details or undisclosed understandings." For many NGO representatives it seems to mean their presence when delegates negotiate. GATT has long been talking of 'transparency' of government trade policy and regulations, licensing procedures and decisions etc and every secretariat report, for example, for the TPRM country exercises has some criticism or other on this score about every country. But when it comes to its own bailiwick, whether consultation or decision-making processes of the GATT bodies or its secretariat activities it has been 'translucent', but not transparent at all. In the final stages of the Uruguay Round last year, there were no 'green' or 'blue' rooms, but only informal meetings at level of heads of delegations. But the decisions they were to take were negotiated often outside the building -- between the US and the EC and/or the Quad and then a few key country-delegates, and then conveyed to the others. While this was perhaps understandable in terms of the major trade and economic interests and issues involved, the post-Uruguay Round preparatory process appears to be no different. The US and EU still meet and reach understandings and these are then sought to be formalised through the various subcommittees and their leadership.