Continued impasse over DG choice

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 16 June -- The General Council of the World Trade Organization will meet Wednesday afternoon, first informally and then in a formal session, over the selection of a Director-General and discuss the impasse in the consultation process.

An informal meeting late Tuesday evening, which convened after a day-long formal Council meeting on the regular agenda issues that left most members exhausted, was adjourned till Wednesday afternoon, to be followed by a formal meeting.

In a draft text of note circulated in advance to delegations, Chairman Amb. Ali Mchumo of Tanzania in effect told members that either they had the choice of accepting his proposal to elect New Zealand's Mike Moore by consensus or start a new process.

Mchumo indicated at the start of the informal meeting Tuesday evening that he would elaborate on his text, and provide more details.

While Mchumo text itself was not made available to the media, a statement by Mike Moore sent to the media on Tuesday cited from the Mchumo report, and argued that either the membership had the choice of electing Moore by consensus now, or start a new process that may take many months and no guarantee of no further deadlock.

And while Moore claimed (on the basis of the Mchumo text) that he now had the support of 80 members, the Mchumo text said that while the 80 was of the Moore supporters and others who supported the Chair's proposal (and not Moore) for institutional reasons, "this was precisely what was expected to follow the announcement of the result of the process that the Council inaugurated last July."

But either way it was clear Tuesday evening that many of the strong supporters of Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi are not ready to accept Mr. Mchumo's assessments or agree to set a new process, jettisoning the candidates -- without a clear indications and decision about any new process, that it would be a transparent and democratic one, about how it would avoid the same problems as now, and ensure that the process is not a back-room power-play by the United States to bring in another candidate of its choice.

As one of the key delegates put it, the impasse over the Mchumo consultations can be acknowledged, but the Council can still find a way of making a choice from the candidates -- either by an indicative vote or any other "quantitative" method of support among the candidates, that could then be formally accepted by consensus.

Several of the Supachai supporters said that from their own assessments, the figure of 80 quoted by Mchumo did not add up, and if the Moore proponents were confident of this number, they should have no objections to an informal voting process, whose outcome could be formally adopted by consensus, in line with the WTO processes.

In his note circulated to delegations, Mchumo outlined what he saw as the situation, on the basis of the consultations he had held since 26 May (when the Council had last met and considered this issue).

A "substantial number" of countries that had not originally supported the Mike Moore candidacy had since indicated that they were prepared to support the Mchumo proposal of 30 April for appointing Moore as the Director-General.

As a result, said the Mchumo note, some 80 members were now in a position to support his proposal.

Mchumo conceded that a number of the indications of support were of an "institutional" nature, in that they were "support for the process and the Chairman's proposal, rather than for the candidate himself."

"But this of course was precisely what was expected to follow the announcement of the result of the process which the Council inaugurated last July."

And while a number of countries had remained silent, in accordance with the principle of consensus, they may be assumed to support the chairman's proposal.

However, Mchumo added, several members had informed him that they maintained their formal objections to the proposal, and others had said they could not support the Mchumo proposal so long as the objection was sustained.

"As things stand, while a heavy preponderance of the membership of the WTO would support my proposal, I cannot conclude that there is yet a consensus in favour of the appointment of Mr. Moore."

It had also been made clear that the objections to the proposal of Kenya that consensus should be built around the candidacy of Dr. Supachai would be maintained and it was therefore clear that "no consensus is possible on that basis."

If the position remained unchanged, the Council should draw appropriate conclusions accordingly.

According to some trade diplomats, the United States, the principal proponent of the Moore candidacy, has told Japan and some key delegations that it does not believe Moore could be named by consensus, and they should agree on a new process by which an outside personality could be chosen and presented to the members.

But this does not appear to have gathered much support. One of the Supachai backers pointed out that it was precisely to put an end to such undemocratic and non-transparent back-room practices, that the 1986 decision of the Contracting Parties was taken on the D.G. selection process. Having failed to manipulate the process to name a candidate of its choice, the US wants recourse to the old methods. (SUNS4457)

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

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