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POURING OIL ON CHOPPY SEAS?

by Chakravarthi Raghavan


Geneva, 12 Oct 99 -- The informal heads of delegation (HOD) meeting of the General Council began discussion and hearing general comments from delegations on a draft text for a ministerial declaration on the basis of the chairman's text of 7 October and an addendum to that issued on 11 October.

Amb. Ali Mchumo of Tanzania, who opened the discussions, drew attention to both the 7 October text and the 11 October addendum. He also made a reference to an earlier version of the chairman's draft having become available to some delegations, and said he would ensure this would not happen again.

This was a reference to the widely held view, among those delegations that had seen a 6 October draft, that the 7 October draft was one that had been rewritten by the United States. Both developing countries, as well as the EU and Japan, had complained about the US 'hijacking' the Seattle agenda.

In an effort to mollify delegations, the WTO Director-General, Mr. Mike Moore met with some key delegations Monday evening and suggested that it was only a first draft and they could provide inputs which would be taken into account in a new draft.

One of the delegates who was present said later, speaking on background basis, that the general atmosphere for the launch of any negotiations at Seattle was already bad, and this kind of approach would make it worse.

"Why should we provide any inputs to the secretariat, when we have done so already to the chairman of the Council," another remarked.

In some initial comments at the HOD meet (which is expected to continue Tuesday afternoon, and perhaps Wednesday too), the EU, Japan and Switzerland said there could be serious discussions and proposals for formulations, only when a revised version of the original text was put forward.

A number of developing countries which took the floor commended and praised the Chair for putting out an addendum of the implementation proposals of the developing countries to be a part of the text.

Australia commended the text and was willing to take it as a basis, but complained that the agriculture text had not gone beyond the position in Art.20 of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA).

But the Australian view was countered by Japan, EC and Switzerland -- all of whom felt that any formulation on agriculture could only incorporate what is already in Art. 20 of the AoA.

Japan said that the draft was not an acceptable basis for discussions. The implementation issues, sought to be addressed through an addendum, was not the only area of deficiency and the Chair should prepare a rev.1 for further discussions. For Japan, the issues on anti-dumping and investment were important issues.

Switzerland echoed the need for a new text to enable discussions. Under each issue there must be a paragraph reflecting the 'emerging consensus' and formulations on those where there were disagreements. Agriculture was the most disputed part of the text, and the text as it stood was not capable of redrafting.

Singapore, unlike some of the other ASEAN members who have taken a strong stand on implementation issues, said that the blanket approach behind the addendum was not a proper one, and some of the questions would need negotiations.

The EC said they had already written a letter to the Chair for revising the text and reiterated the view that the present text provided no basis for negotiations. It was fundamentally impossible to bridge the gaps and imbalances in the present text. The EC was not sure whether the implementation proposals now put into the text would be possible to be acted upon now or would need 'follow-up'.

Argentina and Uruguay commended the text, though they felt it had not gone far enough on agriculture. Uruguay commended the Chair for putting out the addendum on the implementation questions, and thus rectifying a serious omission.

Brazil saw the main problem in the text related to agriculture. And while commending the Chair for putting the addendum on implementation, it felt that it was not enough, since Brazil's concerns had not been reflected adequately. For example, said Brazil, under TRIMs what was needed was something more than flexibility in time periods for implementation. Rather,  there was need for flexibility for developing countries in terms of TRIMs measures themselves (those that are prohibited in terms of local content etc).

Hong Kong China was willing to take the text as a basis, but said there were serious imperfections - for example, in merely referring to contingency measures, and not specifying anti- dumping.

Indonesia said that the paras 37-41 of the text, having formulations for undertaking negotiations on investment, competition policy, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation should be taken out of its present place (under subjects for negotiations), and put in a separate place under a future work programme, either as Singapore issues or with other proposals. The formulated paragraphs should have alternatives, found in the text elsewhere, for continuing the study process. (SUNS4528)

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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