Stalemate on DG selection

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 19 May -- The attempts to name a Director-General for the World Trade Organization are stalemated, though General Council Chair Amb. Ali Mchumo of Tanzania is still trying to get Michael Moore elected by consensus, by persuading supporters of Supachai to back off, the EC's Amb. to the WTO, Mr. Roderick Abbot told a media briefing Wednesday.

Abbot's remarks on record appeared to confirm reports from trade diplomats that the General Council Chair is trying to hold "consultations" among small groups to persuade them to accept Moore, and this has reached a stage where things are getting "ugly".

The EC briefing was about the US-EC hormone beef problem, and the US seeking WTO authorization to impose sanctions on EC imports. The US has called for a special meeting of the Dispute Settlement Body for 3 June to consider its request. Authorization is automatic, subject only to arbitration if sought by the other party on the level of damages. The EC is seeking arbitration on the level of damages - and under the rules, if original panellists are not available, an arbitrator has to be named by the Director-General.

Beyond explaining the situation about the DG selection process, Abbot declined to answer any further questions.

"The chairman," Abbot said, "is trying to get his proposal (to elect Moore) approved -- to find a way to persuade the supporters of Supachai to back off. That is where we are. He is to make another attempt to get a consensus. If it fails we may have to start all over again, and that will take a long time."

A General Council meeting set for Wednesday was cancelled or postponed by Mchumo, and WTO officials are unable to provide any explanation beyond saying that the chairman is continuing his consultations.

Some delegations who have met or contacted Mr. Mchumo say they have no clear answers as to why this has been done, but have the impression that the US side has been opposed.

Some Supachai supporters charge that the cancellation of the General Council meeting, and the talk now of scheduling one towards end of next week, merely appears to be for giving more time to the Americans to apply more pressures.

In the contest over the Ruggiero election in 1995, the US (after it got assurances from Ruggiero) had asked the Korean candidate Dr. Chulsu Kim, to withdraw and take up a deputy Director-General job.

But the somewhat brazen way the New Zealand government, under US prodding or inspiration, have attempted to "bribe" Dr.Supachai to similarly withdraw -- New Zealand media more cosmetically describe it as an "abortive deal" -- by offering him the job of a deputy, has clearly made matters worse.

As one trade diplomat from Asia who did not want to be identified put it, there is a mixture of the US view that everything has a "right price", that anyone can be bullied or bribed to do anything. There is also some "racial" arrogance on the part of New Zealand government to think that any non-White should feel honoured to be asked to serve under a "white", a condescension that New Zealand is "superior" to Thailand or that an ex-prime minister (even one in office for a few months but was defeated in polls) is higher than a Thai Deputy Prime Minister with some expertise as trade minister.

No wonder, the diplomat said, the Thai government has unceremoniously and publicly dismissed and scoffed at it, and made clear that win or lose Dr.Supachai's candidacy remains.

And whether Supachai wins or loses, both he and Thailand have so far come out with their dignity and self-respect intact.

Considering the amount of charges that the US side has been levelling against Supachai (of offering jobs and other inducements), this attempt at "abortive deal" shows the depths to which the Moore supporters, the US and its "friends", have dragged the WTO down in public eye.

Non-government activists see the entire episode as one proving the utter lack of any democracy within the trade organization, and a lack of transparency, not merely visavis the public, but even within the membership, and the entire "confessional" consultation process making it difficult for even capitals to know what exactly their representatives may or may not have done in carrying out instructions. Some of the western media, citing unnamed US officials, have repeated some of the charges, in pieces of paper that had been floating around at the WTO in April, about the alleged job promises made by Supachai.

At one meeting of Supachai supporters, the Dutch ambassador brought this into the open, and said when Supachai visited the Netherlands, they had broached the issue of top appointments, and Supachai had said he would make no commitments or promises but that a deputy would need to come from Europe, and that he had repeated this view in other capitals, some of whom thereupon switched their support to Moore. Some of these countries are openly being mentioned in the corridors of the WTO.

According to trade diplomats, Mr. Mchumo, with Amb.Rossier, has been "consulting" with small groups of delegations. It is not clear whether the consultations involve both sides in the contest, or only the supporters of Supachai in an effort, as Abbot hinted, to persuade or pressure them to back off and ensure Moore's election.

With the consultations, in small groups, few of those attending are willing to talk about it.

But according to some trade diplomats, Mchumo has been advised that the proposal he put forward for election of Moore does not have any consensus, and it is time he abandons it and take up and lead a discussion in the General Council on the Kenya proposal for building a consensus around Supachai, and not merely formally talk about the Kenya proposal being on the table.

Mchumo has also been told that the consultation process authorized by the WTO General Council in July 1998 is over, and the continuance of Rossier as "facilitator" was no longer warranted. "It is time to thank and end Mr. Rossier's job as facilitator".

Japan at the last meeting of the General Council had openly raised this question about the "facilitator", said one trade diplomat, expressing surprise that Rossier had not himself quit.

Others whose views have been sought have reportedly also told Mchumo that in asking him to hold consultations and recommend a name, the membership had not handed over to him the responsibility of deciding on the next D.G. nor have they agreed to an endless process.

Three meetings of the Council have shown that there is no hope of a consensus around Moore, and it is time for the Chair to abandon the proposal and not continue to maintain it endlessly.

It was of course possible that there would be no consensus for Supachai either, but the attempt has to be made and if it fails, the Council has to be advised, and its views and directions sought on what to do.

Postponing the General Council meetings, and holding consultations without clarity on what the consultations are about "only fuel further speculation and suspicion". The mandate under which the consultations are being held and the time-frame need to be publicly known.

In any event such consultations could not replace a more open and transparent General Council process.

The Mchumo proposal for electing Moore has had adequate chance and discussions, but has not attracted any consensus, and there is no reason to go on holding consultations or debate the proposal further.

It was but fair that the Kenya proposal be considered in a similar way that the Chair's proposal had been, and the chair has to guide and conduct substantive discussions, and not dealt with it procedurally. If the Kenya proposal for a consensus around Supachai also fails, then the General Council has to assess the situation and see what to do, and how to make a fresh start. (SUNS4438)

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

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