6:21 AM Jun 9, 1993


Geneva 9 June (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- Ending four weeks of prolonged and often painful process of consultations, the GATT contracting parties achieved Wednesday morning consensus on the choice of Irishman Peter Sutherland as Director-General of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade to succeed Arthur Dunkel.

The appointment of Sutherland will be formally approved by the GATT CONTRACTING PARTIES at a Special Session Wednesday afternoon.

Sutherland will be the fourth Director-General in the 45-year history of the GATT which is still only a provisional agreement and has a secretariat by virtue of the 1948 arrangements for the UN to set up a secretariat for the Interim Committee for the International Trade Organization envisaged under the aborted Havana charter.

At an informal meeting of heads of delegations of the CPs Wednesday morning, El Salvador on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean group of countries (GRULA) announced the withdrawal of the candidature of Uruguay's Julio Lacarte-Muro, leaving in the field only Peter Sutherland.

With "consensus" having thus been achieved, the Chairman of the GATT CPs, Balkrishna Zutshi of India was able to announce this to the informal meeting, which also agreed on the terms and conditions of the appointment of Sutherland and the creation of a third post of Deputy Director-General.

The Director-General is to name the Deputy Directors-General in consultation with the GATT CPs.

After the closed-door meeting, Zutshi told journalists that there was a consensus in favour of Sutherland and that he would move at the afternoon session for formal decisions on all the three points. It would be non-controversial but statements would be made by El Salvador on behalf of the Grula and Tanzania, one of the few countries which had earlier come out openly in support of a Third World national being chosen.

The decision of the Grula to withdraw the Lacarte nomination was reached Tuesday night after a round of consultations among a small group of countries held by Zutshi in the afternoon where it became clear that other regions and countries had decided to support Sutherland's candidacy, even as some of them acknowledged merit in Lacarte's candidacy.

The (S)Election process began in February and in mid-April it became known from western media reports (and they conveyed to Zutshi informally) that the US and EC had picked on Sutherland. But soon after, he withdrew his name from consideration when, at the instance of Zutshi who asked all cps to come up with new names, the GRULA group decided to offer some names.

The month-long consultations which began from 1 May soon became a rather painful process, with most of the developing countries making the point that the major entities could not any longer be allowed to make decisions outside the framework, and then give it to the "formal" GATT consultation processes to be put through and a consensus obtained and decided.

But over the last week or so, as some within the Grula itself said privately, it became a matter of "bargaining" over other posts and whether Lacarte who had been persuaded to allow his name to be put forward could, as "runner-up" be found a position suitable to his stature and past experiences. Some of the ideas suggested by some of his friends, it is not clear whether with his consent or otherwise, such as chairmanship of official level TNC (occupied so far by Dunkel, in his personal capacity) or some post of GATT's ambassador at large to go around and promote solutions did not fly, and even began to make the process undignified apart from the normal GATT problems of consensus-building being anything but 'democratic'.

As the morning informal session ended and delegates streamed out, Amb. Tran Van-Thinh, the EC Commission's Chief GATT delegate told newsmen that the GATT's consensus decision-making process had succeeded and that when the minority saw the majority view, it yielded to the majority view.

"We (the US and EC) looked around and found a man who could knock our heads together and bring about an agreement and we found Sutherland to be the best choice and proposed him," Tran said.

The next few months will show whether Sutherland can indeed break their heads, or in the way of the official consultation process, take the US-EC decisions and put it through the GATT "mill" to create a consensus, and how the views he has conveyed to the contracting parties (and in interviews to the British media) about his looking on the job as a "political one" to promote change and development, would be translated in terms of safeguarding and furthering the interests of the developing countries remains to be seen.

But whatever the outcome now, or in the immediate future, the days of cosy decision-making among a few cronies functioning on first name basis is virtually over, and things would need to be more transparent, among the participants and even more among the public who no longer are willing to view these issues as 'technical' or something that concerns only the 'trading classes' -- viewed in most societies as 'lower'.

Perhaps in the myriads of languages and dialects around the world, in these days of "globalisation" of culture and GATT as its promoter, some one might discover a meaning for sutherland too.

Heard in the corridors of the GATT was a half-jocular remark from an observer to newsmen:

"The Dunkel era is over, you will now have the Peter principle or the Sutherland solution or sauce".

The references to the 'dunkel' era was to the use over the last couple of years in the Third World media, playing on the German meaning of the word 'dunkel', and identifying it with the narrower 'consultation processes' he initiated within the still restricted traditional GATT "green room" consultations and the more recent identification in the Indian media of the proposed bundle of Uruguay Round agreements with Dunkel as its author, the Dunkel Draft Text and more pejoratively in its acronym DDT.

The 'peter principle', playing on Sutherland's first name, is the reference to the view about the British bureaucracy that people inside it get promoted automatically until they reach their level of incompetence.

The Sutherland solution was a reference to what Sutherland would bring to the other GATT CPs, after the US, EC and the majors agree on a package and try to put it through as a final Uruguay Round accord.

As for "sauce" the reference was to the story narrated to the GATT over three years ago by the then Brazilian Permanent Representative, Rubens Ricupero who referred to the choice being posed to developing countries and said it was the like the story of the French who asked the chicken "in what sauce it would like to be eaten" and when the chicken it does not want to be eaten, the chef says: 'I rule you out of order'."