Officials Upbeat on GATT Talks Congress's Approval of Fast-Track Buoys Hopes
Scott Pendleton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
THE stalled General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade negotiations will likely be completed by the end of the year, now that Congress has extended President Bush's fast-track negotiating authority, several trade officials predict.
After four years of negotiations, the current round of GATT ran aground last fall over the issue of agriculture subsidies, leading to speculation that the organization had toppled its last trade barrier.
"GATT will survive because there is no good alternative," says Charles Carlisle, deputy director-general of GATT. And he adds: "A dead organization doesn't keep attracting new members." El Salvador joined last week, raising the number of members to 102. Another dozen membership applications are pending, he says.
Trade is simply too important to the global economy to allow it to become hung up on agriculture, which only accounts for around 10 percent of world trade, Ambassador Carlisle says.
"In the end, the main players will not allow the round to go down the drain," agrees Andreas van Agt, the European Community (EC) ambassador to the United States. Prosperity at stake
"What is at stake here is prosperity," adds Michel Camdessus, chairman of the International Monetary Fund.
The US, Canada, Brazil, Australia, and Argentina would like GATT members to reduce internal farm subsidies by 75 percent and export subsidies by 90 percent over 10 years. European countries had refused to go beyond 30 percent.
However, Germany's Chancellor Helmut Kohl recently stated that Europe's common agriculture policy made no economic sense. Ambassador van Agt views Mr. Kohl's remark as significant. Germany is the world's largest overall exporter. He adds that he has been surprised at how long it has taken German industry to speak up, seeing that "GATT is critical to it."
The previous six rounds of GATT negotiations pushed industrial tariffs down to 5 percent from 40 percent, Carlisle says.
This helped bring 8 percent annual growth in world merchandise trade from 1950 to 1970. During the 1980s the growth rate slowed to 4 percent, he says.
In the last 12 months, about 80 percent of the growth in the US economy has come from exports, says Gary Edson, chief of staff to the US Trade Representative. …