7:08 AM Oct 17, 1994


Geneva 17 Oct (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- Informal consultations at the GATT on the choice of a successor to Peter Sutherland have reached an impasse of sorts and if it is not quickly resolved, Sutherland might be asked to continue for a while until some compromise emerges, according to GATT delegations.

The consultations are being conducted by the Chairman of the GATT Contracting Parties, Andras Szepesi of Hungary. He has held one round and is due to start another soon.

Three candidates are in the running: the Italian former trade minister Renato Ruggiero, the President of Mexico, Carlos Salinas, and the South Korean trade Minister, Kim Chul Sum.

In the first round of consultations with individual delegations conducted by Szepesi, of the 64 delegations polled, Ruggiero apparently got the backing of some 23-24, Salinas of 21 or 22 and Kim about 16.

The backing was more or less on regional lines, but with Ruggiero picking up some support from the ACP countries who are linked with the EU under the Lome accords.

The selection process has also been complicated by the rivalries and deadlocks within the OECD on the choice of an OECD head. Frenchman Claude-Paye has been let go when his term ended on 30 September and the post is now held by an acting head.

The US and other non-Europeans have been opposing another European as the successor. The Europeans want to get both that post and that of the WTO head. They already head the IMF too.

There is some talk that if the OECD deadlock is resolved, it could clear the way for a compromise between Europe and the non-European OECD members. But this may not be sufficient to create a consensus behind any one of the three.

Szepesi is now due to start a second round of consultations, and is apparently trying to ask the delegations to indicate their 'second choice'.

However, according to some reports, several of the countries in the Latin American region have apparently decided not to provide any 'second choice', but back fully Salinas, while indicating their opposition to others.

A similar pattern is considered likely in respect of others.

But some in the Latin American group are known to be more flexible, but don't want their 'flexibility' to benefit candidates from other regions who might be rigid.

The United States, while behind Salinas, has not come out fully and, if it does, it could swing a few votes more for Salinas.

But since the choice has to be by consensus, or atleast a candidate emerging with sufficient overwhelming backing to persuade others to withdraw and endorse a consensus, GATT delegations say at the moment the prospects are for a deadlock.

In such a situation, some of the key delegations say, it would mean that hunt would have to be outside of the three candidates and a renewed search from a new list of other candidates and this might take some time.

Several new candidacies are reported to be waiting for such a development, but most of the names mentioned may run up into same problems: too high a political profile, and too little of practical knowledge as is being said of Salinas, or persons of ministerial rank who really don't have a grasp of the wide range of trade and system issues that the WTO's initial head needs.

Sutherland's own contract, when he was appointed as GATT Director-General is due to run till July 1995 and in that sense there is still time in choosing a successor.

But there is also some talk of approaching him to agree to a short term, a year or two, as the head of the WTO.

However, Sutherland (beyond going around and delivering public speeches exhorting early ratification) has 'mentally switched off' some GATT officials say. And given his public statements about non-availability, his staying on beyond his contract period will reduce his credibility outside, even if made to appear as a case of response to the CPs and their difficulties.