10:00 AM May 12, 1993
SISTINE CHAPEL, POISONED CHALICE AND OTHER TALESGeneva 11 May (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- It is difficult these days to open the day's newspaper or attend any international meeting, even political ones, leave aside economic ones, without voices being raised in calling for early conclusion of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations, both pointing to such a conclusion as a way out for the world's many problems and blaming the failure to conclude for all the ills. Depending on the fora (and the audience), almost any such meeting in its statements is likely to include a call for the early conclusion of the Uruguay Round -- with developing countries sometimes insisting on a 'balanced and equitable' result, in others for conclusion 'on the basis' of the 17-month old Dunkel text of the Draft Final Act with minimum changes and/or other variations in language and the US and other industrial countries asking for contributions by all. The heads of the International Financial Institutions (the IMF and the World Bank) at every fora and public occasion have been castigating the leading industrial countries for not taking the hard decisions to conclude the Round, citing the OECD and other studies about the likely positive impact in terms of world trade and output gains, and the dangers and uncertainties of a failure. Finance Ministers of developing countries, finding no results after implementing all the 'policy advices' flowing to them from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and who once used to argue that the policies and the conditionalities are to blame, now blame the lack of results on the trade front, the stagnation in the industrialized countries and their failure to conclude the Round. Not too long ago, and even on the eve of the Brussels Ministerial meeting (that failed to conclude the Round), inside the GATT, developing country delegates used to stress their debt and financing problems and question the over-emphasis on the trade negotiations as a solution to such problems and even the European Community used to join by focussing on the exchange rate fluctuations and disorders on the currency markets. These voices and doubts whether the global macro-economic deficiencies could be cured by the trading system alone are now less and less heard. Collectively, when they meet at Fund/Bank meetings, Third World finance ministers have now become the most vociferous exponents of the Fund/Bank theories (as one observer at the recent Washington Interim Committee meetings noted) and these two institutions in turn have now become exponents of the Third World view about the external environment and actions by the North in providing more aid and more trade. As the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations, now in its seventh year drags on -- with a new 'target' for conclusion of 15 December in terms of the Clinton's request to the US Congress for new fast track authority, and talk of agreement among majors through a process (beginning with the Quad meeting in Toronto 14 May, through the OECD ministerial meeting later in May and the G-7 summit in Tokyo in July) the frustration of the trade negotiators from the South have been voiced in some picturesque metaphors, jokes and allegories. While the metaphors among negotiators and officials often have a current local context, easily understood by the audience but not outsiders, others have dipped into some classics. As the UN's regional Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) put it recently (in its survey published in April where it blamed the policy advice of 'shock therapies' and 'big bang' approaches thrust on the former centrally planned economies for the economic and political disorder in these countries) the bewildering array of metaphors are sometimes used to describe particular recommendations, but often to discredit contrary views and arguments. Early in the negotiating process, in pushing the North's case and castigating the developing countries in the late 1980s, the World Bank and its neo-classical economists used to talk of the 'free riders' in developing countries, forgetting the 'free ride' the industrial world has had for over 300 years and the fact that such usage and the implied rebuke for lack of reciprocity ran against the grain of the neo-classical theories about the virtues of unilateral liberalization for the liberalizing country. As the negotiations seemed to go round in circles, in 1990 a frequent comment or metaphor was about the Uruguay Round and its 'merry-go-round'. Later in the runup to Brussels, as the industrialized countries (and the institutions controlled by them -- the IMF, World Bank, OECD etc -- began demanding more and more from the developing world, leaving them little choice or alternatives but to fall in line, the then chair of the informal developing country group, Ambassador Rubens Ricupero of Brazil summed up the choice posed to developing countries in this story: "The situation is akin to one where the cook asks the chicken with which sauce would you like to be eaten? When the chicken answers it does not want to be eaten, the cook says, I rule you out of order." Two recent metaphors and stories in relation to the Round have been expressive too. Mr Jorge Riaboi, Argentina's delegate at the UNCTAD Trade and Development Board's Executive Session when it was considering developments in the Uruguay Round (and industrialized countries saw little use of any discussion since there had been no developments) expressed his frustration at the majors and their attitudes by narrating the story of a conversation between two cardinals in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. As he told the story, two cardinals met in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican and, looking around, one cardinal asked the other "do you think we would be allowed to marry?". The second cardinal thought a moment and replied: "Not in our generation, may be in our children's." The Argentinian did not elaborate whether he intended it as a throw-back to the Mercantalist era of the Middle Ages when cardinals and even popes had progeny or whether he was looking to the future when the Church might change its rules -- and the next generation of GATT diplomats, officials and negotiators would conclude the Round. Another metaphor, as the US and EC keep arguing and negotiating, unable to move forward even after their 'Blair House' accord of November 1992, was that of a leading Third World negotiator who said the Round perhaps had become a poisoned chalice. In ancient Greece, the cradle of western civilization and democracy, 'poison' was the accepted mode of execution for those condemned to death and were given a cup of hemlock to drink -- as Socrates did. In the modern age though, poison is viewed as the most despicable of all murder instruments. The 'chalice', in its dictionary meaning and ancient Greek origins, was a drinking cup. But in the early Christian era, Paul's statement (in I Cor. x, 16) about "the cup of blessing which we bless" and the accounts of the institution of the Eucharist in the first three Gospels, indicated the special rites of consecration that attended the use of the chalice from the beginning. In the Middle Ages the legend of the Holy Grail surrounded the origin of the eucharistic chalice with a magical aura and was something men could not attain or grasp -- as in the 11th century Cretien de Troy's Le Conte del Grad (where the hero is Percival) or in the later 13th century Perlesvaus, where the chief Grail hero is Galahad -- and Lancelot can see the Grail only in his dream because of his sin with Guinevere while the chaste virgin knight Galahad by the grace of God sees it in vision. If the Chalice of the Middle Ages and King Arthur's Court, was a distant vision that man cannot attain, the 'poisoned chalice' in Shakespeare became an inevitable punishment for wrong-doers when Macbeth before he kills Duncan (and is still hesitant), says: If it were done when 't is done, then 't were well It were done quickly: if the assassination Could trammel up the consequence, and catch With his surcease success; that but this blow Might be the be-all and the end-all here. But here upon this bank and shoal of time, We 'd jump the life to come. But, in these cases, We still have judgement here, that we but teach Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return To plague th' inventor: this even-handed justice, Commends th' ingredients of our poisoned chalice To our own lips. Understood thus, the conclusion of the Round for the principal trading entities who conceived and pushed the Round for their own interests, and forced the developing world to accept the 'bitter medicine' -- causing hardship and death and disease to the poor and the children, would be the 'judgement here' -- not something that could be easily reconciled to. Perhaps, GATT negotiators and the man tipped to succeed GATT Director-General Arthur Dunkel, "shake the trees" and conclude the Round might look to Hindu mythology for a happier ending to swallowing poisons. In the beginning, before the gods were 'condemned' to immortality, the gods or Suras and their rivals, the Asuras, joined to churn the oceans out of which they were told would come Amrith the nectar which would bestow immortality on whoever partook of it. As the two churned the oceans, first came a few gifts appropriated by one or the other (as the mid-term accords) and suddenly the oceans spewed the Alahala poison, so toxic that it began consuming the oceans and the earth. Frightened, everyone ran to Siva (the destroyer in the Hindu holy trinity) and appealed to him to save them and Siva came down, gathered the poison in his palm, swallowed it, but arresting its progress down his own system at the gullet (making his neck blue). Thereafter came the nectar out of the churning of the ocean, but which did not prove to be a zero-plus game. Lord Vishnu, the Protector in the Hindu trinity, came in the garb of a rapturous damsel to ladle out the nectar, gave it all to the Suras or the gods, thus bestowing immortality on them, while their opponents, the mesmerized Asuras remained looking at her enhanting beauty and got no 'nectar service', remained mortal and lost out.