7:00 AM Dec 16, 1993


Geneva 15 Dec (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- As GATT Director-General Peter Sutherland brought the gavel down at 7.35 local time in the cavernous hall of the Conference Centre at Geneva where the TNC was meeting, bringing the Uruguay Round negotiations to a close, delegates from the 117 participating countries and observers from other governments (hoping to join soon) as well as from international organizations, rose to cheer the conclusion of the longest, most complex of trade and economic negotiations in post-war history.

The negotiators, particularly from the developing world, got up and cheered, and later clinked glasses and drank champagne with the negotiators of the majors (who have benefited most), perhaps as much in relief that it had all been at last brought to an end as in the belief that they had done the best in a bad situation, had managed to turn back the last-minute joint US-EC assaults on them and, while they may not have got much in market access, had secured some certainty in the trading rules and a rule-based system.

Many also privately suggested that there probably never again be such a negotiations and that the trading nations would need some time to digest all these, before starting for further negotiations envisaged in individual agreements like the General Agreement on Trade in Services, or the GATT 1994 itself (in agriculture etc).

But these could prove to be 'famous last words'.

For, as some observers noted, the developing countries would in fact be from now on under continuous pressures, both because of the unfinished work relating to the Uruguay Round itself -- such as the envisaged negotiations on the financial services issue over the next 18-24 months (depending on when the agreements enter into force - 1 January or 1 July 1995, to suit Japanese parliamentary timing and ratification), on the further work in antidumping such as over circumvention, the 'work programme' on environment.

Several of the developing countries would still be trying to complete some market access negotiations with the majors -- they can't take back their own offers on the table as of 15 December, but could try to give more and may be gain a little -- and file their actual schedules by 15 February.

Several of the Latin American banana exporters are still in negotiations with the EC over its 'banana' offers.

There would also be the work programme and negotiations in basic telecommunication services, and perhaps maritime services etc.

The continuation of the agriculture reform process would have to start within five years of entry into force -- and it would be even more difficult and complicated than now, particularly if the European Commission's view about the CAP reforms do not bear out.

Over and above all these, individual developing countries would be under continuous pressures and forced involvement with the two majors, and their neo-mercantilism, across the board on a wide range of issues.

And they would also be facing the new agendas of the North and its pressure groups -- social agenda, environment, competition policies not so much for curbing the monopoly power of the TNCs but rather to strengthen their own thrust against local enterprises.

And if they remain as disunited as during the Uruguay Round, each pursuing its own chances of commercial gains, individually and collectively they would be worse off again.

The developing countries were pushed and pulled into these negotiations that were launched at Punta del Este in 1986, but the preparations and the agenda for which were set in a sense by the US in 1982 at the Ministerial meeting.

The developing countries were thus reluctant participants, whether they had belonged in 1986 to the cafe au lait group that cast its lot with the North in the hope of some market access benefits, or the group of 10 (led by Brazil and India) which were resisting the new agenda.

But as the negotiations progressed, all the major developing countries became active participants, trying to shape the rules and influence the market access negotiations in goods and services by "offers" and hoping to bargain.

But over the last year or more, and certainly over the last six months when the negotiations actively resumed under Peter Sutherland, they had been reduced to becoming spectators on the side-lines, with the US and EC talking bilaterally and fixing deals and deciding how to force them on the others.

And that is what it came to in the end, over the last 48-72 hours, giving no time to the large majority of developing countries to even bargain and negotiate on market access with their trading partners.

"We will try to complete these with 20-25 of our trading partners before the 15 December deadline, and `sweep up' the rest later," one EC official remarked, explaining that there just was not any time left.

Before Sutherland brought the gavel down at the TNC, participants put on record their assessment.

In the interventions of most developing countries could be discerned an element of bitterness that not only had they not got the kind of market access they had been promised when they were persuaded to join the negotiations, but that the two majors, US and EC, kept everyone waiting until the very last 48 hours, engaged in no real market access negotiations with them, and virtually forced down their own accords on others.

Nevertheless, if all of them put a positive gloss on the outcome, it was partly from a genuine belief that the rules they had negotiated along with the World Trade Organization and its Dispute Settlement system would provide them with some element of certainty and security from unilateralism and power-play from the majors and that on balance they would be worse off without the accord and failure than with its conclusion.

But as one of the negotiators put it unattributably:

"However dissatisfied, or angry and bitter, none of us can afford to say that we the developing countries have received the short end. We don't have the option to stop the world and get off and delink ourselves. Our political masters have a hard enough time in our countries, where many of our peoples woke up to the implications of these negotiations a little too late, and have begun to demand changes. And we have to get the agreements through our own decision-making processes..."

The Malaysian Ambassador, Haroon Siraj, Chair of the informal group of developing countries in the GATT, in his speech said that the outcome had made some, but not enough improvement in the rules, had brought disappointment in market access to his and other developing countries, and a lot of things left unsettled particularly in the services.

All delegates praised Sutherland for his role in bringing the negotiations to a successful conclusion and for the sense of fairness he had shown over these last few weeks of tense negotiations towards the smaller trading partners.

Many of them privately said that while his predecessor, Arthur Dunkel, had worked hard to bring about this conclusion, the negotiations could never have been brought to a close by him.

Sutherland, a former law officer of Ireland (a political appointee) and the EC's competition commissioner, came to this job at the instance of the US and EC and charged with the task of bringing the negotiations to a successful conclusion.

He had no real grasp of the technical details (and made no secret of it nor apologetic about it) but took a high profile and, in a game which was nearly always a touch-and-go situation, took risks which by his mere highly publicised talk of the dangers of failure, if he had failed, would have been disastrous for the system and sent shocks to the real economy.

Having been brought in by the majors to help them conclude the deal, in effect he kept others waiting while pushing and berating the US and EC to settle their differences.

He did not allow any process for consideration of the changes in the rules that some sought, and once the US and EC agreed on the changes in agriculture area, by himself and with the 'friends of chair' pushed it through, giving little choice to others.

There was a similar outcome in some of the other rules areas -- where though it was a case of the US demanding changes, the EC willing to acquiesce or quietly support, and some others opposed.

All these hard and difficult negotiations, packed into the last week or so, gave little chance for most others.

"But if we still have some `order' left in the rules in areas like anti-dumping or textiles and clothing and other areas where the two majors towards the end upped their demands on the others, it was essentially because Sutherland showed a sense of fairness and did not hesitate to berate the majors in the negotiating process," one of the negotiators said, citing particularly his stance on Tuesday night over the textile negotiations where the US and EC sought to apply jointly pressures on India and Pakistan.

However, Sutherland in pushing things to a conclusion has swallowed the complete 'theology' of the GATT economists who, like the World Bank (as John Mihevc of the Inter-Church Coalition for Africa has portrayed it recently in relation to the Bank and its SAPs) have adopted a fundamentalist theological approach to control the development and economic policies of the developing world based on: a theory of 'competition' where governments and domestic producers are in 'sin' if they intervene against foreign TNCs; the dogma that international rules and disciplines should bring about national laissez faire; promoting the "profit greed" of the corporations and in disarming the developing world through theories of benefits of unilateral liberalism that the developed don't practise.

This theological approach is based, like those of the fundamentalist Church, on demand for sacrifices now for reward in the long-term future, for the infallibility of their theological authority and heresy of critics.

In this theological approach as the GATT and the Uruguay Round participants move from Geneva to Marrakesh and beyond -- they will perhaps face President Clinton's fights with Congress for approval, and demand on others for "side agreements" to obtain ratification, including demands on developing countries between now and the 15 February deadline for more market opening concessions without US reciprocity, or for liberalizing their financial services and opening them to US institutions (where negotiations will continue for at least six months after entry into force.

And the balance-sheet on this Round cannot be struck now, nor four months later at Marakesh when Ministers meet to sign the Final Act, not even when the Agreements and the WTO enter into force.

It will take at least a decade, and other economic forces have to come into play to provide growth impulses to the world economy.

By then most of those who have negotiated and staffed would have retired and gone -- and can neither collect rewards nor be held accountable.