What's Next for World Trade?


TRADE negotiators who were jubilant at the successful conclusion of the seven-year-old Uruguay Round sounded like the winners in an American presidential campaign: It was worth the fight, many said.

But most participants of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) agree that the likes of this round, which took up everything from agriculture to services and future technologies, will not be seen again. At the same time, calls for international negotiations on issues ranging from trade and the environment to workers' rights, probably mean new talks are not far off.

One of the Uruguay Round's problems was that ``new'' issues arose that in 1986 were not commonly linked to trade negotiations. One example is the environment: Now many see the link between trade and dwindling natural resources - for instance, between log exports and deforestation.

United States chief trade negotiator Mickey Kantor says environmental issues must be taken up in international trade talks soon after ratification of the Uruguay Round - expected by January 1995. Sooner still, a work program on the environment is to be presented for approval when trade ministers meet in Marrakesh, Morocco, next April to sign the accord.

But for ``green'' groups that may not be substantial enough. If the work program does not promote action, groups like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund say they will oppose national ratifications.

Other areas which might be taken up by the future World Trade Organization - GATT's successor - include competition policy, workers' rights, investment rules, and developing-world issues, such as commodities trade (coffee and tin, for example) and migrant workers.

The European Union (EU) is keen to address competition. With the growing importance of multinational corporations, questions of industrial subsidies, mergers, and monopoly will become more vital. The US has pressed for talks on international standards for workers' rights - a move generally opposed by developing nations who fear it would be a cover for shackling countries with low labor costs.

Many business leaders warn, however, against increased regulation.

``We want to watch now for moves that would replace tariff measures with bureaucratic impediments to trade,'' says Caroline Walcot, assistant secretary general of the European Roundtable of Industrialists.

Trade officials from developed countries will also be keeping an eye on China's accession to GATT and the conditions for admission.

China's bid to rejoin GATT after a 43-year absence has been stalled by the US and the EU, who want special measures to guarantee against floods of Chinese products. Growing impatient, Chinese officials this week said they might forego membership if China is not readmitted by 1995.

But other countries are concerned about how the coming economic giant might skew world markets. ``It's not a question of China acceding to GATT,'' quipped one GATT official recently, ``but of GATT acceding to China.''

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