by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 5 Apr 2000 -- The four Quad members (Canada, EU, Japan and the United States) after a meeting last week over the Seattle fiasco and the way forward, appear to have formulated a set of proposals and handed them over to the WTO Director-General Mr. Mike Moore.

Mr.Moore and his deputies appear to be engaged in holding consultations on this with key developing countries and others, and have scheduled a wider consultation (along with the chairman of the General Council) at level of the informal General Council next Monday.

Apart from the mandated negotiations (in agriculture, services, and the mandated reviews) already launched formally, other key issues as part of a 'confidence-building' exercise include the range of issues raised by developing countries under the rubric of "implementation", questions about transparency and participation of members in decision-making, and the action plan for Least Developed Countries.

It is perhaps a commentary on the culture of the WTO (and/or is it its incorrigibility?) that -- after the Seattle debacle, and the statement there by US Trade Representative and chair of the 3rd Ministerial, that the WTO needed "a process which had a greater degree of internal transparency and inclusion" -- the very first 'consultations' on this began with a 'green room process'. And the move forward now is again on the basis of a "Quad consultation" among themselves, and a text formulated by them and forwarded to Moore, on the basis of which he and his deputies are holding wider consultations.

The outline of the Quad views for rapid actions in the WTO, within the context of the DG's consultations, appear to largely ignore, if not bypass the major concerns raised by the developing countries.

On implementation issues, it seems to hold out little more than the promise of "sympathetic consideration" and that too on a case-by-case basis to requests for extension of time for implementation under the TRIMS and Customs Valuation accords.

It is also proposed to give the Least developed countries, upon request, delay in implementing the provisions of the Agreement on Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary (SPS) measures, but hedged in by the 'transparency' requirements provision and provisions about standards maintained in accord with international standards.

For other developing countries, there is a promise of addressing issues in terms of technical and procedural issues, over the implementation of the TBT (Technical Barriers to Trade) agreement, the SPS, Agriculture and Services agreement in relation to international standards.

Also, in the area of promises, is an instruction to the General Council special mechanism (to consider implementation questions) on improving the effectiveness of the Marrakesh decision on negative effects of the Agriculture reform programme on LDCs and net-food importing countries.

On transparency, there is clearly every intention of continuing, and legitimising the secretive current processes.

At an informal general council consultation last week, trade diplomats said, while various views were expressed, a view that emerged and one likely to have large support was that any consultations of a limited character to be held by the Director-General or chair of any of the bodies would be notified in advance. Any member, not invited, but finds its interest may be involved, could just notify the secretariat and attend the meetings and participate fully. And after each meeting, there should be a full meeting to acquaint everyone with the outcome of the consultations. Such consultations, it was generally, should not be one to produce decisions, which ought to be one taken by the entire body of members.

The Quad proposal, according to trade officials, talks of holding informal meetings broadly representative" of WTO members at different levels of development and reflecting the breadth of substantive views on issues being discussed, to be followed by open meetings to which a report would be made on progress achieved.

There is also talk of enhancing external transparency by increased contacts between the WTO secretariat and NGOs, immediate derestriction of documents with limited exceptions.

As for LDCs, the Quad countries want a WTO decision that developed countries shall provide LDCs with enhanced market access through tariff-free, and quota-free treatment.

However this is to be hedged in by qualifications about such treatment being consistent with domestic requirements and international agreements under the preferential schemes of developed countries.

And with the devil in details, such treatment would cover "essentially all products" originating in the LDCs. In effect this would enable the majors to keep out or restrict imports of "sensitive" agricultural products and of textiles and clothing.

And according to trade diplomats, these preferences would not be "bound" in the GATT/WTO schedules, but under the various GSP and other preferential schemes.

Developing countries are also to be called upon (in terms of the Quad move) to provide "to the maximum extent possible" similar market access to the LDCs.

Perhaps the Quad initiative, if true, would prove the adage - 'a mountain in labour producing a mouse'. (SUNS4643)

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

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