THE countdown to the conclusion of the Uruguay Round trade talks has begun in earnest. Forty-eight months ago, these extraordinarily far-reaching negotiations were launched at Punta del Este, Uruguay, to break new ground in trade liberalization for the trading nations of the world and to strengthen the multilateral trading system which has brought prosperity to us all. Now there remain but three months to conclude what is arguably the most momentous series of trade negotiations in history. The talks have arrived at a situation akin to that in football of the two-minute drill. Almost four quarters have been played, but the game's outcome will be decided in the last two minutes. For four years, negotiators have been struggling in Geneva with trade issues as complex as agriculture, intellectual property, dispute settlement, tropical products, and trade in services.
Thus far, the results are extremely tenuous. There is a real question as to whether the 100-plus governments involved can summon the political and economic will to see the negotiations to a successful conclusion. On Dec. 3, trade ministers will gather for the final negotiating session, in hopes of wrapping up a package to strengthen and transform the oft-maligned General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and establish new rules to govern world trade.
We in the United States have a vital stake in a successful outcome. We remain the largest trading nation, and exports provide a critical part of our economy's growth. The new rules being proposed to govern trade in intellectual property, trade in services, and agriculture fit precisely into our export strengths.
Yet, curiously, the talks have generated little interest or enthusiasm in this country. Admittedly, some of the issues being negotiated do not easily lend themselves to general public comprehension because of their technical nature. But American business leaders surely understand what is at stake in international trade the rules (or lack thereof) which govern their overseas transactions.
One positive manifestation of the business community's recognition of the Round's importance is the formation of the MTN Coalition. This coalition, with members from all economic sectors, along with organizations servicing consumer and business interests, has committed itself to a strengthened, more effective multilateral system. This private group is working to educate Americans about the importance of strong, comprehensive agreements in Geneva. But these efforts, alone, are not sufficient.
Take trade in intellectual property. The US is a nation of inventors. We trade, very lucratively, our inventions, designs, and know-how around the world. Yet there are no rules at present governing this trade and, particularly, protecting our creative entrepreneurs from international trade piracy. The Uruguay Round is trying to fix that situation. Again, the stakes are very high. The US International Trade Commission estimates we as a nation lose perhaps $60 billion a year from such piracy. If for no other reason, every American ought to be pressing hard for good results.
Trade negotiations involve political will, in Washington and across the nation. The same is true in every other country. Negotiations, by definition, are a matter of concessions offered for concessions received. All the parties in the Round will have to make concessions - and time is running out.
At the same time, political will should not be confused with doing things for political reasons. Nothing could be more harmful to the talks' prospects than for the US to weaken its negotiating proposals to curry international political favor. Trade talks are undertaken to promote trade, first and foremost. It would be ironic for the US to condone for international political reasons continued permissiveness in trade-distorting measures such as government export subsidies, trade barriers erected under the guise of protecting cultural sovereignty, and so-called ``voluntary'' export agreements.
The world has a unique opportunity to repair the damage done by us all to the trading system and break new ground for multilaterally-agreed disciplines in the ``new'' trade areas such as services.
Whether US Trade Representative Carla Hills and her dedicated team of negotiators can pull this off depends in good measures on the support received form the American body politic, which is after all, also the body economic. Political and economic leaders across the nation should now encourage the administration and Congress to engage in a real two-minute drill to push the ball over the goal line.