William Brock (pictured), the US Trade Representative (USTR) under Reagan, played a key role in getting the GATT talks started. But he was aided in his endeavours by a range of powerful corporate lobbying groups.
Within each of the major nations that dominated the GATT negotiations, industry and business had privileged access to influence their country’s negotiating position. The economic or trade ministry officials involved in the negotiations were lobbied extensively by industry at both a national level and an international level by groups such as the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the OECD’s Business and Industry Advisory Council (BIAC).
Industry Sector Advisory Committees (ISACs) had been set up in the US in the 1970s to facilitate industry input into trade policy and ‘ensure that U.S. trade policy and trade negotiation objectives adequately reflect U.S. commercial and economic interests’. ISACs were set up to represent 17 industry sectors and advised the president and the negotiators via the Department of Commerce and the Office of the US Trade Representative.
In this way, the negotiating positions of the dominant nations reflected business interests rather than a broad spectrum of democratic interests. No other NGOs had the access or influence accorded to business groups. Several large and powerful business organizations campaigned for the successful completion of the Uruguay Round and the expansion of free trade. They included the World Economic Forum, The Bilderberg Club and the Trilateral Commission.
The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) sent a delegation to PM John Major, who was hosting the 1991 London economic summit, to persuade him that the Uruguay Round was the ‘most important and urgent issue’ on the summit’s agenda.
The European Round Table of Industrialists was a leading lobbying force during the Uruguay Round and it claims some of the credit for the completion of the Round. Its Trade & Investment working group worked closely with the US Business Roundtable ‘in backing the launch of the Uruguay Round’ and supporting the ongoing negotiations.
ERT was vigorous in its lobbying for successful GATT negotiations. ERT Assistant Secretary General, Caroline Walcot said in 1993: ‘We have spoken to everybody. We have made press statements. We have written to Prime Ministers. We have done everything we can think of to try and press for the end of the Uruguay Round.’ At the end of the round an ERT delegation of 14 CEOs met with the French prime minister ‘to help resolve the European position in the talks’.
In 1989 William Brock set up the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) on World Trade to push for ‘a successful outcome to the Uruguay Round’. The EPG was made up of 14 ‘influential politicians and business leaders from around the world’ including Lord David Young, former UK Secretary of State, Trade and Industry; Enrique Iglesias, president of the Inter-American Development Bank; and Paul Volcker, former US Federal Reserve Board chairman.
One member, Peter Sutherland (pictured), former EC Commissioner (1984-88), an architect of the European single market, and chair of Allied Irish Banks, later became director-general of GATT in 1993 with the support of the European countries and the US. Another member, Mike Moore, NZ Trade Minister and then NZ Prime Minister briefly, became WTO Director-General in 1999. The group was chaired by Otto Lambsdorff, former West German Economics Minister, and advised by Martin Wolf, chief economics leader writer for the London Financial Times, who also acted as rapporteur for the group.
The EPG warned, at its inaugural meeting in 1990 that if the Uruguay Round failed there would be ‘chaos and impoverishment’ in its wake as a result of the trade stagnation and slow down of economic growth that would ensue.
The US-based MTN (Multilateral Trade Negotiations) Coalition was formed in 1990 as part of the lobbying effort to kick start the suspended negotiations: “The potential benefits are enormous, the stakes are extremely high, and the alternative of failure catastrophic” the coalition said in a letter to Senator Lloyd Bentsen. The Coalition lobbied within the US for congressional support for the GATT negotiations and also outside the US. Coalition representatives visited London in 1991 to “drum up British support for a wide-ranging trade agreement”.
The MTN Coalition claimed to represent 14,000 US companies including the major multinationals such as IBM, General Motors, American Express, General Electric, Citicorp and associations such as the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the US Council for International Business (USCIB). It was chaired by two former US Trade Reps, William Brock and Robert Strauss, and it’s executive director was Harry Freeman, former American Express vice president.
It was said to be “the largest coalition in history.” It described itself as including “an array of business, farm, consumer and trade associations who have joined with many leading US corporations in an education and mobilisation campaign in support of comprehensive multilateral trade agreements in the current negotiating round of GATT.”
When the GATT negotiations were concluded and its approval in Congress seemed assured, the MTN Coalition closed down, transferring its files and lobbying activities to Texas Instruments Inc. Texas Instruments CEO and chair, Jerry R. Junkins, went on to play a leading role in setting up the Alliance for GATT Now which succeeded the MTN Coalition in 1994.
However, US business was not united in promoting GATT. Some companies formed an anti-GATT coalition with labour unions—the Labor-Industry Coalition for International Trade—because of their concerns about concessions US negotiators might make in terms of the US steel, electronics, oil, chemical and communications industries. The textile industry was particularly concerned about cuts in tariffs that protected them from imported textiles and it led the opposition to GATT in the US. Meanwhile, other companies from the aluminium, beer, furniture, paper, semiconductor and toy industries were concerned that tariff reductions required by GATT would not be enough and they formed the Zero Tariff Coalition.
Some senators supported a resolution to withdraw fast track authority for the President so that Senate could amend the deal that US GATT negotiators had agreed to. Believing this would threaten any GATT agreement that might be reached, the MTN Coalition wrote to each Congressman in 1990, asking that they not condemn the GATT talks before they were completed.