New Trade Rules for the Weak

Morocco, with its African roots and pro-Europe stance, is right place for new North-South pact

MOROCCO'S King Hassan II is fond of telling Moroccans that their country is like a tree whose roots are deeply planted in Africa, but whose leaves are tossed by the winds of Europe.

The king's point is that while Morocco harkens to its North African soil for its traditions and identity, its prosperity is largely dependant on the state of its economic ties to wealthy neighbors across the Mediterranean.

That picture of Morocco as a link between the South and the North, between the developing and the developed worlds, makes the old royal capital of Marrakesh a particularly appropriate venue for the April 15 signing of the Uruguay Round trade liberalization accord. For just as Morocco is a poor country pursuing rapid growth through closer ties to the West, a majority of the 125 delegations at the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) meeting represent developing countries that - by conviction or resignation - are signing on to freer trade in a global market economy as their best route to prosperity.

For one week, Marrakesh is the capital of hope in a kind of New Deal for the world's developing countries. GATT General Director Peter Sutherland is categoric that such hope is justified. ``Under the Uruguay Round, everyone comes out a winner,'' says the widely respected Irishman. ``If I weren't convinced that includes the least-developed countries, I wouldn't be a part of it.''

Mr. Sutherland rattles off examples of new commitments by developed countries to more open markets as support for his argument. But he says the biggest gain for the least powerful is the round's provision for turning the GATT, a series of trade negotiations, into a World Trade Organization (WTO) with well-defined trade rules and a multilateral system of trade-dispute settlement. ``This puts to an end the law of the jungle, where might is right,'' he says. ``Rules are the weak's best guarantee for the future.''

One of the more significant feats of the Uruguay Round, some officials say, is how it transformed much of the developing world over the seven years of negotiations from adamant opponents of trade liberalization to participants in its expansion.

``What made this round unique was the active involvement of developing countries,'' says Maamoun Abdel-Fattah, Egyptian minister to GATT. ``That participation allowed sectors those countries originally wanted left outside the GATT to be brought in, but with compromises.''

Services and intellectual property are two examples of controversial areas that ``made it in,'' Mr. Abdel-Fattah says, because they ended up incorporating ``a development dimension'' mandating technology transfer and access to information. He gives the example of Egyptian insurance markets. ``We agreed to open up over five years, but with the condition of significant training for local personnel.''

Acknowledging that some countries remain skeptical of their wealthy partners' willingness to share technology and other advances, the Egyptian says a key element will be whether the future WTO enforces its own rules and wins the developing world's trust.

The Uruguay Round alone will not be enough, Sutherland agrees. ``The developing world must be much more present in economic policymaking,'' he says, airing his proposal for regular meetings between leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy countries and those of the developing world.

And he calls ``significant'' the fact that for one week this discussion takes place in Morocco. This tree with its roots in Africa and its branches reaching across the Mediterranean ``has been a productive conciliator between North and South,'' Sutherland says, ``throughout our long debate.''

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