by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 23 Nov 99 -- A meeting of the General Council of the World Trade Organization set for Tuesday morning was put off till the afternoon, with delegations still to receive any revised draft text of a Ministerial Declaration to forward to Seattle.

The only text on the table is the one put forward by the Chairman of the General Council on 19 October.

An informal heads of delegation meeting of the General Council, to be followed by a formal meeting, set for Monday was put off, and rescheduled for Tuesday - even as a very restricted handful of delegations were still struggling to agree on some text, with square brackets, in the area of agriculture and implementation issues.

According to information from some trade diplomats Monday night, no solution had emerged in the two areas of agriculture and implementation, to evolve some text, with or without square brackets.

Last Friday, noting that he had not been able to put forward any revised text of the draft declaration as promised, Mchumo had circulated some 'working papers' in the other areas. He had then said that work was continuing on the two areas of implementation and agriculture, and without some texts on these key aspects, "no revision" of his 19 October text "could be considered balanced."

A small group consisting of the US, EC and four members of the Cairns group (reportedly Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay and Brazil) reportedly had evolved a text in agriculture - which omitted the references to the 'multi-functionality' of agriculture, but merely referring to 'non-trade' concerns.

There had been some expectation that the four Cairns group members would be able to sell this text to the other Cairns members, and that the EC similarly would be able to get the four other advocates of the 'multi-functional' nature of agriculture -- Japan, Korea, Norway and Switzerland -- to agree.

But this does not seem to have happened, and the four 'multi-functionals' reportedly met the WTO head, Mike Moore, and advised him that their own formulations should be put back into the text.

On the implementation issue too, there has been no movement.

The US has made clear that at best most of the issues raised by developing countries would be sent to a mechanism to be set up, for a report to the 4th ministerial -- and developing countries would have to pay a price for any changes by more concessions to the US.

The EC seemingly more sympathetic, nevertheless, has a stand no different: one way or another it wants these issues to be put into the agenda of the next "comprehensive round" which would include the EC demands like investment and other new issues.

And both the EC and US have their labour and environment agendas.

There were suggestions Tuesday that the General Council could at best agree to forward the 19 October draft (of the Chairman).

There were some who apparently are trying to persuade the WTO head, Mr.Mike Moore to send a letter to the Ministers at Seattle, on his own responsibility, outlining some of the compromises and proposals that have come up in the 'consultation' process since 19 October.

But there were others who were advising caution, noting that the WTO agreement provides no authority for any initiative of the WTO head, whatever the freedom of views in speeches that members might tolerate. (SUNS4558)

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

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