New trade chief calls Tokyo 'acid test'

July 02, 1993|By New York Times News Service

GENEVA -- Declaring that good intentions are insufficient, Peter Sutherland became the world's top trade official yesterday and said the core of a long-delayed world trade agreement must be hammered out in Tokyo next week.

In an interview here at the quaintly staid headquarters of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) -- just a few days before the Tokyo summit of seven major industrialized nations -- Mr. Sutherland, 47, an Irish lawyer, immediately served notice that he would be as blunt and outspoken as his predecessor was mild and circumspect.

"I am going to say it as it is, and shoot from the hip," Mr. Sutherland said, using language in sharp contrast to the chain-smoking Arthur Dunkel, his predecessor.

Mr. Sutherland said he had twice rejected the job but took it this time after receiving assurances from trade officials -- including Mickey Kantor, the U.S. trade representative -- that they want a GATT accord this year.

"I am taking this position having been led to believe that world leaders intend to conclude the Uruguay Round of trade talks by Dec. 15," he said. "For that target not to be utopian, we need a market access agreement at the Tokyo summit."

Mr. Sutherland added: "If the summit fails -- and there are ominous signals right here on day one -- then the trade negotiations will become very difficult. It can't all be done on the back of an envelope on Dec. 14. Tokyo is an acid test."

In effect, the new GATT chief made it abundantly clear that both Mr. Kantor and the European Community's trade commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan, had promised him progress in Tokyo, and that he would feel double-crossed if this did not materialize.

"It is essential," he said, "that the United States, the community, Japan and Canada provide the launching pad for the take-off of negotiations in Tokyo. Rhetoric about the importance of the Uruguay Round is not good enough. I am a facilitator. But I cannot facilitate a lack of will."

The last four economic summits have all failed to advance the trade negotiations, which began in Uruguay in 1986.

The talks are aimed not only at increasing world prosperity by lowering or removing tariffs and other trade barriers, but also at incorporating whole new areas of economic activity -- including services and intellectual property -- into GATT regulations.

To avoid a fifth humiliating failure to advance the Uruguay Round at the summit, trade officials from the United States, Japan, Canada and the European Community have been holding talks aimed at reaching a so-called market-access agreement that could be announced in Tokyo and would be an important part of an overall GATT accord.

The market access talks aim to lower existing high tariffs on products like textiles, clothes and agricultural goods, eliminate tariffs altogether on some, such as pharmaceuticals, and set out reciprocal arrangements in new GATT spheres, such as the protection of copyrights and the establishment of financial services in foreign markets.

Mr. Sutherland, whose abundantly direct style at times appeared close to shaming world leaders into finally honoring their trade promises, said he was a passionate believer in open trading systems.

"I have given up an entire career," he said, referring to his decision to leave his position as chairman of Allied Irish Banks, which owns First Maryland Bancorp, to take the GATT director-general post, "because I wanted, so to speak, to put my money where my mouth is. I intend to make sure that others -- and I mean world leaders -- do the same."

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