Membership remains deeply divided on WTO head

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 17 June -- An informal meeting of the General Council of the World Trade Organization Wednesday over the appointment of a Director-General ended with no progress towards resolving the deadlock or changing the positions of the two sides.

It is clear that the problem can be resolved only through an informal vote at least; but the United States, as the biggest beneficiary of the WTO version of consensus decision, remains steadfastly opposed. And the other side will not agree to any new candidates being brought in or a new process with a new slate, without clear agreement in advance about a transparent, democratic decision-making process.

The Council is to meet for a formal session on the question Friday morning.

On Monday night, the Chairman of the General Council, Amb. Ali Mchumo of Tanzania had circulated to delegations a note on his reading of the situation, and an informal meeting, convened at Mexico's request, and set for Tuesday evening (at the end of a long formal Council meeting) was put off and met on Wednesday.

As one participant put it at the end of three hours of informal discussions, the two sides remain fairly entrenched and there has been no progress. Apart from the ASEAN questioning Mr. Mchumo's new "tally" of support to elect Moore, a number of other interventions too appeared to question the claims and methodology, and were critical of the lack of transparency, fairness and equity in the process.

Some participants viewed the Chairman's note circulated to delegations, and his comments, to mean that Mr. Mchumo has now accepted that his proposal to elect Mike Moore of New Zealand is dead.

A number of key countries supporting Thailand's Supachai Panitchpakdi said that while the process of promoting a consensus around Mr. Mchumo's proposal was dead, the General Council could still decide -- by an informal, transparent process of "quantification" on a choice between the two candidates, and elect the winner by consensus.

But the US has made it clear that it was not agreable to any process of informal balloting or "quantitative verification" of the support between Moore and Supachai or even for consideration of any proposal, other than Chairman's Mchumo's.

The United States also insisted that if the Mchumo proposal was dead, the whole process and the candidacies were dead too, and an entirely new process has to begin with a new slate of candidates. But the US seemed to be holding out this prospect, as Moore had done in his public statement on Tuesday, merely to force through "attrition" the consensus election of its candidate.

As one delegate said outside the meeting, there was a paradoxical situation that those who claimed such a majority for Moore were unwilling to have it "verified", while Supachai supporters, said to be in a minority, were prepared to have the support "verified" and accept whatever its outcome.

At the outset of Wednesday meeting, a statement by Malaysia on behalf of the ASEAN, said that from the statement of the Chairman it was clear there was no consensus on his proposal. He had been repeatedly told on the 3-4 occasions when the Council had met, that no consensus could be found on his proposal. And though no formal objection had ever been expressed to the Kenyan proposal, Mr Mchumo had nevertheless indicated that no consensus would be possible on it.

The ASEAN also said that time and again before and after 30 April, Mr. Mchumo had said numbers were not important and that he would prefer to concentrate on "difficulties" or "objections" and to continue to find ways to resolve the impasse.

Mr. Mchumo had also said that he would avoid doing things that would involve any semblance of voting, and yet he had chosen "to come up with a number - of 80 delegations supporting the Chairman's proposal."

If it had been his intention to work with numbers and figure, this should have been made known to members in advance, and also how he intended to present or interpolate the result of such consultations.

"Neverthless," the ASEAN told the chairman, "the discrepancy between our tally and your number is such that we have serious difficulty accepting the figure that you have come up with.

"If your intention is to use numbers as a means for decision- making by the General Council, then we might as well choose a path that is transparent, efficient, having a strict time-frame, and providing parity such as some form of indicative voting, so that we can genuinely bring this matter to a close quickly.

"Setting that aside, it is clear that, whichever way you wish to phrase your message, there is no consensus on your proposal. We maintain our position for the reasons which have been clearly and sufficiently stated by us and many other delegations in the previous meetings."

Several interventions from countries supporting Dr. Supachai questioned the chairman's view that he could not conclude there is "as yet" a consensus in favour of appointment of Mr. Moore, but that no consensus was possible on the Kenyan proposal to build one around the Supachai candidacy.

The United States, and its core supporters behind Moore, spoke of "a lot of developments" since the last meeting of the Council indicating more support for Mr. Moore, and disagreed with the chairman's statement that though there was a "heavy preponderance of support" for his proposal, he could not conclude there was yet a consensus to elect Mr.Moore and the Council should draw "appropriate conclusions and act accordingly."

Mexico, India, Hong Kong China, Japan and others said that the chairman's statement showed there was no consensus for his proposal. In their view, this meant that the process that began with two facilitators (Ambassadors Celso Lafer and William Rossier) last year, and continued since February by Chairman Mchumo and facilitator Rossier, was now dead. But the two candidacies were not dead and the Council had to find a way by which a selection between the two could be made.

Hong Kong China said the Chairman's statement had concentrated on his "remarkably durable proposal" even though it was clear that no consensus was possible on it. No amount of window-dressing could disguise that fact. Despie the claims of the US and others about the "growing support" for Mr. Mchumo's April 30 proposal, it was clear that the differences between the two candidates remained very small. The talk of "growing support" was like the talk about "growth factor in the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing", Hong Kong said.

Hong Kong welcomed Mr. Mchumo's conclusion that no consensus was possible on his proposal, but said the Council should select one of the two candidates.

Haiti had earlier referred to the controversies over the numbers and the method of consultation, and suggested that there should be a more transparent process, with the chairman and representatives of each of the two candidates, ascertaining the views of countries and groups as to which of the two candidates they preferred.

A diplomat from a major developing country said at the end, as the Council ended its informal meeting, that it would be impossible to reach a consensus on the basis of "attrition" or "exhaustion", and either the WTO would continue to be at an impasse, or have resort to some informal voting, and find a democratic way forward. (SUNS4458)

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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