Rich and poor nations split yesterday over whether to start a new round of multilateral talks to lower trade barriers at a time when protectionism is on the rise in industrial countries.
The division was made public as the semiannual meetings of the International Monetary Fund Interim Committee and the joint World Bank-IMF Development Committee ended here. The final communique' of the Development Committee -- delayed for seven hours as delegates sought a compromise -- referred to resistance to new trade talks and called on all nations to lift trade barriers that already have been banned by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
Last week, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, at the urging of Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III, agreed that a new round of trade talks under the auspices of GATT "should begin as soon as possible."
But Indian Finance Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh said yesterday that most developing nations would not join the talks unless the rich countries rolled back the barriers they have erected to exports from developing countries and fulfilled promises to liberalize trade that were made in the last set of global trade talks that concluded in 1979.
Officials from developing countries cited in particular the promised liberalization of trade in textiles and footwear, which they said still encounters barriers. They also want the barriers to exports of food products relaxed.
The trade talks proposed by Baker are on the agenda of next month's economic summit in Bonn that will bring together leaders of the West's leading industrial nations. The participants include the United States, Britain, West Germany, France, Japan, Canada and Italy.
The trade talks could -- and probably would -- proceed without the developing countries, but they would have a far less meaningful conclusion because developing countries account for a large portion of world trade.
The developed countries want to expand the existing GATT rules that govern the conduct of trade to include the services of which developing countries are major consumers, such as banking, finance and communications. Poorer countries have long been reluctant to treat services as the subject of multilateral talks, preferring to confine trade discussions to merchandise such as food, cars or textiles.
The week-long talks of the Interim and Development Committees had gone smoothly and uneventfully until the developing countries dug in their heels on the trade issue.
The Development Committee communique' obliquely acknowledged that under current circumstances, a new round of global trade talks would take place without the participation of many, if not most, of the developing countries.
The communique' called on all countries to move against the increase in protectionism. Major industrial countries including the United States -- all under pressure from their own workers and industries -- have attempted to restrict imports to preserve jobs at home. Those restrictions hit hard against underdeveloped countries, especially those seeking new export markets for commodities such as steel and food products to generate the dollars they need to pay their massive foreign debts.
Aside from the trade talks, finance ministers were in substantial agreement on a variety of international financial and economic issues. They also agreed that the world economy has improved in the past year and that the prospects for the future were reasonably bright.
The ministers agreed that the United States must reduce its budget deficit -- and applauded recent Reagan administrations steps to achieve that -- and that European nations must attack their high wage structures and resistance to new industry. They said those so-called rigidities have kept Europe in relative stagnation while the United States and Japan have grown rapidly and served as the engine for the 1984 world economic recovery.
The United States, however, has seen its economic growth deteriorate in recent months, and if the world economy and international trade are to continue to grow, Europe may have to pick up the slack.
The ministers also agreed that the IMF should expand its role in policing the economic policies undertaken by its member nations. At present, the IMF has a strong "surveillance" role only over countries that have had economic problems and had to turn to the international agency for assistance.
The ministers said such "enhanced surveillance" would contribute to "promoting sound underlying economic policies and convergence of performance among member countries." IMF Managing Director Jacques de Larosiere told reporters at a briefing following the meetings that studies of enhanced surveillance are under way. But he said no mechanism is yet in place that would assure the IMF of an effective role in policing the policies of all its member countries.
The ministers -- those from rich as well as poor countries -- also reaffirmed that there is no global solution to the international debt crisis, applauded recent long-term agreements between bank lenders and debtor nations such as Mexico, and called upon industrial countries to increase the amount of insurance they are willing to provide to developing countries that need financing for vital imports.
The Development Committee urged the World Bank to look at whether it needs an increase in resources that it could use to fund projects and ease the long-term financing problems of developing coutries. The United States has opposed such an increase in World Bank capital and the communique' was careful to reach no conclusions about whether such an increase was necessary, even though most bank members disagree with the U.S. position.
The committee also endorsed a special $1 billion program to assist hard-pressed African nations that undertake economic reforms.