Mar 15, 1986


GENEVE, MARCH 13 (IFDA/CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) – Efforts by the three major trading blocs to secure a quick re-election of Arthur Dunkel, the incumbent Director-General of GATT, for a new term appears to be running into trouble, according to GATT sources.

According to some GATT sources, the moves have precipitated the growing dissatisfaction among the GATT Contracting Parties (CPS), particularly in the third world, at the non-transparent way the GATT machinery functions, and the way a couple of powerful industrial countries decide things and after some proforma consultations in a narrow circle try to push their way through.

Dunkel was appointed to this office in October 1980, for a three-year term with a proviso for automatic renewal for another three years, unless there is objection and decision to the contrary. His current term expires on September 30, 1986.

According to these sources, the chairman of the GATT Contracting Parties, Amb. Kazuo Chiba of Japan, initiated consultations with a small number of countries earlier this month, in an effort to make the re-election or reappointment "a routine affair", and an exercise to be quickly gone through and a new term approved before the end of April.

The substantive and procedural issues, and the manner in which this is sought to be handled, has apparently brought to the fore the general complaints of a large number of CPS, over the ad hoc and informal way the whole GATT and its business is organised and run.

Several of them have been complaining that the entire GATT is organised and run by and on behalf of the USA and the European Communities, with some involvement of Japan.

Others like the Nordics or a few third world countries are brought in at a later stage, but most others are left out in the cold and faced with fait accompli.

Though professedly striving for transparency of government actions and restrictions in the areas of trade policy, the GATT itself, and its Secretariat, function with little transparency.

This is partly because of the nature of the GATT itself.

When the general agreement was signed in 1947 and brought into effect, it was intended to be a temporary affair, pending the coming into force of the Havana charter and the International Trade Organisation (ITO) envisaged under it. But the U.S. refusal to ratify the charter killed the ITO.

GATT itself was put in place as a provisional agreement, which is thus not an enforceable international treaty.

And in practice it has meant GATT could do what the governments from time to time agree it could do.

Efforts to provide an institutional framework for the GATT, as an organisation and a forum, with a Secretariat with assigned duties and responsibilities, have never succeeded. A protocol negotiated never came into force, because Contracting Parties ultimately did not signify their acceptance.

Unlike other international organisations, whose charters and rules clearly spell out the procedures and other details about their executive heads and how they are to be elected and for what periods, etc., the general agreement is completely silent.

The general agreement does not even mention the Secretariat or the Director-General as the chief Executive Officer.

For a long time, the Secretariat of the GATT did not even use the word with a capital "S". Even then title of Director-General came much later. For a long time it was "Executive-Director".

The initial GATT Secretariat, and its chief officer, were those of the interim commission for the ITO (ICITO). The Havana Conference, which instituted the ICITO, named an Executive Committee to exercise all the powers, including the replacement of the Executive Secretary.

The Executive Secretary of the ICITO was automatically the Executive Director of GATT, and later the name was changed to that of Director-General.

This practice of ICITO electing an Executive Secretary, and this personal automatically being made the Director-General still prevails.

The members of the Executive Committee are: Australia, Benelux, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, El Salvador, France, Greece, India, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, U.K., and the U.S.

Of these China, El Salvador and Mexico are not GATT CPS.

But these procedures are not generally known, even to many GATT Contracting Parties, and a GATT spokesman Thursday could not mention any GATT publication where these are explained or mentioned.

Apart from the issue of the Secretariat and the Director-General, other things about GATT too are at best translucent, if not opaque.

None of the GATT meetings are held in public, nor are the documents and papers easily available to those who are not Contracting Parties to the GATT or are observers.

What happens at GATT meetings are relayed to the media by a GATT spokesman, and this is very much in the area of "managed news".

The fact that Egypt had raised at the meetings of the GATT Council on march 12, the issue of the procedures, precedents in the selection of a GATT Director-General, and calling for transparency and wider consultations within the GATT Council, was not mentioned at all by the GATT spokesman in his briefings on Wednesday.

However, according to some GATT sources, the three major-trading blocs (the U.S.A., EEC and Japan) would appear to have decided privately to ensure the continuance of Dunkel in office, and do this quickly in the current state of preparatory work on a new round in GATT.

The EEC, it would appear, has favoured another six years for Dunkel (a three year term with a proviso for automatic extension for another three years, unless objected to and decided otherwise), launching and conduct of a new round.

The U.S. is apparently trying to be "cautious" – and wanting a new three-year term for Dunkel, and any subsequent terms not to be automatic, thus keeping for itself a lever of pressure to exert on the Secretariat.

Some third world sources have pointed to the inconsistency of the U.S., and EEC stands in this case, as against their stands in other UN bodies, headed by third world national, where they have been campaigning against long tenures.

The fact that the term of the Director-General is due to expire at end of September, and relevant procedures for re-appointment or choice of a successor, were never apparently brought to the attention of the CPS in any note of the Secretariat.

Some very limited consultations were reportedly set in course this month by Amb. Kazuo Chiba of Japan, in his capacity as the current chairman of the GATT CPS.

But his efforts to rush through the consultations and get Dunkel approved in April for a new term appeared to have run into difficulties, and some of the participants wanted to have a full and detailed note of procedures and practices, and underlining the need to provide capitals with all the options and time to weigh them, before taking any decisions.

The fact that very few third world countries were involved in consultations would now appear to have added to the complications.

Egypt clearly was not one of those consulted, and it brought the issue into the open Wednesday in demanding a full secretariat note on the procedures and provisions for the election of a Director-General, as well past practices and precedents, etc.

According to some third world sources, the issue is not so much whether Dunkel should be continued, but more fundamental – namely, that the procedures, methods of selection, etc., should be clearly defined and agreed upon, and not handled by "a small cabal" and forced down the throats of others.

While some third world countries may be having some objections to Dunkel himself, many others have no views or could support him, but are concerned over the tactics and procedures, one third world said.

Dunkel himself is reported to have offered himself as available for another term of six years. There are no other candidates whose names have been advanced by any country, either officially or unofficially.

However, several names are being mentioned – including two or three form Latin America and a couple from the Nordic countries.

The post of the Director-General has so far been held by a national of industrialised countries.

Dunkel’s predecessor was also a Swiss.

There are some third worlds countries who on principle feel that it is time for a third world national to take that post, and that this should be an option that should figure in the consultations.

The exercise has also got mixed up in some delicate and intricate negotiations relating to the new round, the future of the Multifibre arrangements, and other matters where the GATT Director-General plays an important role as chairman.

The MFA negotiations must conclude by July end, while in the case of the new round the Preparatory Committee has to submit its recommendations by the end of July for the September Ministerial meeting.

There are some who feel that with some of these processes now under way, it would be best to put off any decision about the Director-General until these are completed.

Whether all these will converge to create problems over the Director-Generalship, or whether it will all prove to be a storm in a tea-cup is not clear.