After 7 Years Of Trade Talks: Success

December 16, 1993|By New York Times News Service The Journal of Commerce contributed to this article.

GENEVA -- A small wooden gavel came down on a table in Geneva yesterday, signaling, with a sharp tap, the completion of the long-contested world trade agreement intended to provide the basis for global economic growth and cohesion into the 21st century.

As he lowered his hammer like an auctioneer completing a sale, Peter Sutherland, who oversaw the last phase of the seven-year trade negotiations as GATT's director general, declared, "I gavel the Uruguay Round as concluded."

Representatives from the 117 nations of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade leapt to their feet in the conference hall in Geneva -- applauding, cheering, even succumbing to bear hugs.

Their relief was palpable: A deal had finally been done and the worst averted, after negotiations that at times seemed more likely to reveal the irreconcilable trade rivalries of the post-Cold-War world than its determination to pursue a quest for freer trade, lower tariffs and greater economic cooperation.

"You the negotiators of the 117 governments involved have achieved an extraordinary success," Mr. Sutherland said.

"There are those, not without reason, who find the post-Cold-War world full of new risks and tensions," he said. "Today, the world has chosen openness and cooperation instead of uncertainty and conflict."

The 400-page Final Act of the negotiations ended as an incomplete compromise, much better than nothing, but far less than once hoped.

Mr. Sutherland announced the conclusion 10 hours before the cutoff of President Clinton's "fast track" authority, allowing him to send the GATT accord to Congress to be voted on without amendments. Within an hour, Mr. Clinton kicked off his campaign to get the agreement approved by Congress, saying that it would foster an American export boom and that it "cements our position of leadership in the new global economy."

At a White House news conference, Mr. Clinton said he was formally notifying Congress of his intention to sign the agreement and submit the pact to Capital Hill.

Reaction to the deal from Congress, which must approve the accord, was mixed. Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, a New York Democrat, came out in support, while Sen. John C. Danforth, a Missouri Republican, said that changes to the subsidies rules were of concern but that the aircraft agreement that was struck was a major gain.

"In the end, whether this agreement is a net plus or a net minus for the United States will be determined by the provisions of the implementing legislation drafted in the Congress," Mr. Danforth said.

Many lawmakers said they shared Mr. Clinton's optimism. The opposition to GATT in Congress is much more Balkanized: There is no clear enemy, like Mexico, for opponents to focus on, and no one has stepped forward to lead a charge against the accord, which offers much larger potential benefits for the American economy.

After approval of NAFTA by Congress last month -- and the intense battle the president waged to gain that approval -- the new accord underscored the administration's once-doubted commitment to free trade.

In Paris, French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, who clashed with Mr. Clinton over issues ranging from agriculture to access for American films to European markets, declared in Parliament that the accord was in France's interest.

"The cultural identity of Europe is protected, the future of French agriculture assured," he said, before winning a vote of confidence by 466 to 90 in the lower house.

Under the agreement, to be signed in Morocco in April and due to come into effect in 1995, worldwide tariffs were cut by an average of one-third, encouraging the freer movement of goods, and industries like agriculture were brought under GATT rules for the first time, implying the gradual elimination of subsidies that are costly to taxpayers.

But accords on the world's trillion-dollar annual trade in services like banking and the movie and entertainment industries proved elusive, leaving some of the fastest-developing parts of the world's economy encumbered by national or regional protectionism of the sort that discourages foreign investment. The agreement, before coming into effect, faces potentially contentious legislative battles in the United States and elsewhere.

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