`Corridor consensus' in Punta del Este

How do trade ministers make decisions? In hallways, stairwell, and restaurants. The GATT talks here are a perfect example of ``corridor politics.'' Because formal meetings are used for speeches, discussions take place where participants find each other.

``It's extremely haphazard,'' says Daniel Amstutz, under-secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture. ``It's organized anarchy.''

Michael Samuels, a US trade official, says hallway meetings are important, since there are no newspapers in this remote location. ``Normally, we would open up the papers to find out what people are saying. Here we don't have that opportunity.'' This remoteness is seen as an advantage over the Tokyo round, the session held in the l970s in Geneva, where the continual presence of TV cameras forced participants into making statements that were then hard to back away from.

Diplomacy at high levels can also become a form of psychological warfare. At one high-level meeting on the agricultural subsidies issue, none of the participants talked for the first 15 minutes. They just tried to stare each other down.

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