Feb 26, 1993
GATT: PLUS CA CHANGE....Geneva, February 24 (TWN)-- For most delegates to the Uruguay Round negotiations of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade here the situation is depressingly familiar: a series of self-imposed deadlines have passed without result and there is little prospect that the Round will be concluded in the near future; the United States and the European Community, meanwhile, without whom negotiations cannot continue, are exchanging increasingly acrimonious public accusations over a range of issues crucial to the conclusion of the Round; and, while negotiations continue in a few specific areas, in reality nothing can be accomplished until the seriousness of the latest US-EC spat becomes clearer and until the US administration makes clear how much of its populist rhetoric will be translated into action at the negotiating table. In this case it is the new Clinton administration from whom a signal of intent is awaited, but the numbing familiarity of the scenario is leading some delegates to wonder whether there will be any difference between this administration and the last. 'The public posturing of the new administration has not provided many useful clues as to policy,' one Third world negotiator commented, adding that 'obviously,' the increase in bilateral tensions over issues like steel, public procurement and aircraft subsidies, 'are not helping matters.' Educated guesses of delegates now put a possible completion of the Uruguay Round at least some six to nine months down the road. But the real worry is that the loss of momentum --the last few months have been littered with deadlines for the conclusion of the Round, but all have passed and no new deadline has been set--will mean no conclusion is ever reached. 'We're a little bit at a loss as to when negotiations will resume,' says a South American delegate. 'By now, I think that everyone knows that it's going to be a true marathon before anything concrete comes.' He noted that part of the problem is that if, as expected President Clinton is granted a probable six month extension to the Fast Track Negotiating Authority given to his predecessor, extending the mandate to negotiate until the end of 1993, the new focus for conclusion will inevitably also shift to the year-end. The prospect of that extension and the fact that the Uruguay Round 'doesn't seem to be a priority issues with this administration' have combined to remove any sense of urgency from the talks, he said. Apart from that lack of urgency, there has also been frustratingly little concrete evidence of intention by the Clinton administration, fuelling a growing feeling among some delegates in Geneva that the administrations may have changed in Washington but there will be no real change in US policy to GATT. The lack of concrete policy signals from the new US administration has proved a problem even for the likes of Hugo Paeman, Chief GATT negotiator for the European Community, who returned last week from a trip to the United States accompanying Leon Brittan, the probable EC Commissioner with responsibility for GATT. The two men met with US trade Representative Micky Kantor and other officials of the new administration. Despite those talks, however, there is reportedly still considerable uncertainty in Brussels about the next move the Clinton administration may take with regard to GATT. Despite expectations to the contrary, Clinton's State of the Union Address did little to help clear up the confusion, either. Nor have the new President's speeches since then --described by one weary Third World delegate here as 'purely for domestic consumption'-- been much help. One confirmation of the view that Clinton's tough talk will not necessarily be reflected at the negotiating table came when White House officials were forced on Tuesday to soften the President's warning on European aircraft subsidies, delivered in a speech to a hangarful of Boeing workers. The officials said they would press for new and broader GATT agreements covering subsidies to aircraft production worldwide. But the officials also moderated Clinton's remarks in which he said that Airbus subsidies were partly responsible for the recent huge job losses at Boeing. They also indicated that the US had no intention of abrogating the Airbus subsidy agreement signed with the EC last July. Perhaps the only concrete changes in US policy that have so far been intimated are an even more aggressive stance with regard to areas such as anti-dumping and the possibility that the US may seek to re-open negotiations in such areas, something that could destroy the present fragile consensus in those areas and threaten the viability of the talks as a whole. 'The danger is there,' says a delegate. 'The more change people want the more others will want to change too, and the greater the danger of the whole thing unravelling.' Another problem that is looming larger as an obstacle to the conclusion of the talks, the South American delegate points out, is the increasing trend towards bilateral resolution of difficult issues. If other countries are condemned to just sit by and wait while the US and the EC decide the future of the Round, he said, it makes a farce of the whole idea of GATT.