View from City Road: Tight deadline for the Uruguay Round

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The Independent Online
The news from Tokyo on trade is excellent - the Uruguay Round once again has real steam up. There are few better ways of increasing confidence than by cutting taxes. That, in the form of widespread tariff reductions, is now in prospect.

But you do not have to be a cynic to recall what happened after last November's agreement on farm subsidies, when everyone said the Round was all over bar the shouting. A whole new raft of problems, of which tariff levels was only one, suddenly bobbed up. Most are still left.

First, the tariff package may not be quite what it seems. There are as yet unspecified exceptions to the reductions and these - especially if they affect textiles - could be rejected by developing countries.

The farm package could yet collapse, sabotaged by the French government or the Japanese or Koreans. But, as hurdle-builders, no one beats the Americans. Beset by powerful lobby groups, they could drag their heels on services, which are being incorporated in Gatt for the first time. For one, the maritime lobby is furious that foreign ships might be allowed to trade in US coastal waters.

Washington is also trying to change the wording in the Draft Final Act, the basis of the Uruguay Round. It wants the rules on intellectual property, subsidies, anti-dumping and dispute settlement changed. More generally, it is unwilling to give up its right to take unilateral action and is set to revive its draconian Super 301 anti-subsidy legislation.

Then there is steel. The US lobby, protecting its most inefficient members, has persuaded the administration to impose duties which in some cases - such as those on British Steel - are outrageous.

The Uruguay Round may be all over bar the shouting, but there is a great deal of shouting to do. Take out the summer holidays, add some histrionics and the 15 December deadline looks very tight indeed.

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