The Political Economy of Service Sector Negotiations in the Uruguay Round

Vinod K. Aggarwal

The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, 1992

The multilateral trading system has been under attack. With the difficulties experienced by trade negotiators in concluding the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), originally scheduled for completion in December 1990, many saw regionalism or bilateralism as an alternative to multilateral trade negotiations. Yet at least as of this writing, multilateralism continues to hold considerable sway for most countries in the international system.

This paper examines one area that has become extremely contentious throughout the Uruguay Round — service sector negotiations. To examine these negotiations, I follow a political-economic approach. In particular, I reject assertions that the evolution of the trading system can be explained simply by technological changes in the system or a growing (or waning) acceptance of the benefits of freetrade. Instead, I focus on the domestic bargaining process that has been taking place in one of the key actors in service sector negotiations — the United States. I attempt to show how competing interest groups have often stymied efforts by the U.S. government to promote systematic trade-offs among issues which are an essential component of any negotiating process.

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