Dec 5, 1987


GENEVA DECEMBER 4 (IFDA/CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) -- The 40th. Session of the GATT Contracting Parties ended Thursday night after the election of Australia’s Alan Oxley as chairman of the GATT Contracting Parties, and the Tanzanian Permanent Representative to GATT and UN Agencies in Geneva, Amb. Amir Jamal, as chairman of the GATT Council for 1988.

The Contracting Parties also elected three vice-chairmen of the CPS’ session – Fredo Dannerbring of the FRG, Sang Ock Lee of South Korea and Manuel Tello of Mexico. Sri Lanka’s P. Nagaratnam was elected chairman of the Committee on Trade and Development.

This is the first time the representative of an African and least developed country is being elected to chair the GATT Council.

After the election by acclamation, U.S. delegate Michael Samuels announced that while his country did not join the consensus it had not blocked it either, but would cooperate with Jamal in the work of the Council.

African delegates said that while the U.S. had been restrained in its formal remarks at the CPS session, its views at the informal meeting of heads of delegations was "an insult to Africa and the developing nations".

The U.S., these delegates said, gave up its opposition only because it found Jamal’s choice was the unanimous choice of the African group and was backed by the informal third world group in GATT, and had received the support of other industrialised countries including the European Communities and the Nordics.

Only Canada and Switzerland, they said, at one stage had tried to provide partial support for the U.S., in the hope that this could lead to a change of candidate, but even these countries had resiled from their positions.

Participants said that even after the election, at the formal meeting of the GATT Contracting Parties, the United States was clearly unhappy with Jamal and his country, and spoke of its concerns about the criteria and the consultation processes leading to the election.

But Indian delegate, Amb. Shrirang P. Shukla, speaking for the third world countries, said all these points had been fully answered and resolved in the informal consultations. The election of such an illustrious son of Africa and man of stature as Jamal, Shukla reportedly added, were not only an honour to Africa but to GATT itself, and the honour and prestige of GATT would be enhanced.

Earlier, Norway’s Martin Huslid, in introducing Jamal at the formal session, had also paid tributes to Jamal, and noted that for the first time an African and the delegate of a least developed country was being elected chairman of the GATT Council, and this was significant.

In what delegates interpreted as a riposte to the U.S. criticism of Jamal and his qualifications, Huslid reportedly noted that Jamal perhaps had more experience of International Commerce than anyone in GATT – since he started his life in the import and export business, importing goods ranging from "nuts to Mercedes Benz trucks" into his country, and exporting Tanzanian products.

After independence, Jamal had also held many responsible Ministerial Offices in his country dealing with a wide range of economies issues of finance and trade, and had chaired the IMF/IBRD Development Committee and had presided over the FUND/Bank annual meetings.

If Jamal had one weakness it was his "kindness and humility", and members of the GATT Council could no doubt help him in overcoming these weaknesses to enable him to make a "strong chairman", Huslid reportedly added.

In explaining the behind-the-scenes tensions and consultations leading to the election of Jamal, third world diplomats said that by tradition the chairmanship of the GATT Council alternated between industrial and third world countries, and within the two groups there was an effort at geographical rotation. Also, invariably the informal group concerned came up with its choice of candidate and this was accepted by other groups.

The chairman of the GATT Council in a particular year was also automatically elected as chairman of the Contracting Parties for the next year.

They said that in the past, when its turn had come, Africa had passed by the opportunity to have an African elected because of preoccupations of suitable candidates. But this time they came up unanimously with their choice of Amb. Amir Jamal and this were supported, again unanimously, by the informal third world group.

Tunisia is the current co-ordinator of the African Group, and India chairs inside GATT the informal third world group.

In accordance with usual practice, the chairman of informal third world group conveyed the choice to the chairman of the GATT Contracting Parties, Mansur Ahmed of Pakistan, who in turn entered into consultations with other groups on this.

The U.S., they said, had tried privately to canvass some of the Africans and others to get a third world candidate who would be more acceptable to the U.S., but did not succeed.

According to some African delegates, only when the chairman of the Contracting Parties, Pakistan’s Mansur Ahmed, started his consultations, and held an informal consultations among key delegations earlier this week, the U.S. came out openly with its objections. Canada and Switzerland reportedly gave partial support by indicating they would have preferred someone else.

However, the African group reportedly made clear that Jamal was Africa’s unanimous choice, and this was backed by the other third world countries.

The EEC reportedly noted that this was the first time Africa, and a least developed country at that, would be occupying the position, and that Jamal himself was a very suitable candidate, and the choice should be accepted without any further ado.

However, the U.S. delegation reportedly repeated its difficulties and voiced them in the informal consultations.

The U.S. reportedly said that Tanzania was in arrears over its GATT contribution, and at a time when the U.S. Administration was trying to persuade its Congress to pay up its arrears, election of Tanzania would be a wrong signal.

Third world countries rejected this view, and noted that the problem of arrears of Tanzania, and other smaller third world nations and particularly the least developed, had been pending in GATT and the GATT CPS had been remiss in not finding a solution on the basis suggested by the budget committee.

All these smaller nations, they noted, would have much smaller contributions to make if they were to be assessed (as others) only on the basis of their share in world trade, but their contributions had been hiked up four to five times through the minimum contribution role.

Jamaica, chairman of the Budget Committee, had suggested that this "minimum contribution" should be ended, and these countries assessed only on the basis of their world trade shares.

At one stage, in the consultations over the election, the EEC reportedly offered to pay up Tanzania’s arrears if this was the only problem.

The U.S. then raised other objections on the ground of the "minimal interest" shown by Jamal in GATT, in that he attended mainly meetings of the negotiating group on services (where Tanzanian views are opposed to those of the U.S.), and that 1988 would see many GATT disputes and the chairman should be someone strong and have maximal involvement.

India reportedly answered these arguments by noting that before Tanzania was scarcely seen in GATT, but after Jamal’s arrival here, the Tanzanian delegation was present at all GATT meetings.

And while one hoped, for the sake of the GATT system, that there would not be too many disputes next year, if there were, the role of the GATT chairman lay in holding consultations over terms of reference of panels, and this too was something to be agreed upon by the parties.

Even the current chairman, Australia’s Oxley, on many occasions had left these consultations to the Secretariat, and no doubt the Secretariat would be similarly co-operative with Jamal, India reportedly added.

African delegations said that the U.S. had also been raising the issue of the smallness of the Tanzanian delegation, and hence its difficulties in coping with the job of chairmanship. They noted in this connection that Colombia and India, which had held these posts in the past, also had only two-member delegations in GATT, and no one had said they had not been able to be active.

As for the views of some that they would be "more comfortable" or more "enthusiastic" with other candidates, third world delegates said this had never been the criteria for selection in the past.

They said that third world countries had not always been "comfortable" or "enthusiastic" about individual chairmen from industrial countries either in GATT bodies or even in the Uruguay round negotiating groups now, but had still gone along with the choice of the groups concerned.

African delegates said the U.S. had also objected to Tanzania’s choice on the ground that it was a minor trading nation and that it was not "market-oriented" in is philosophy.

This point, they said, had been fully responded to by Jamal, in his own way, in his address to the Contracting Parties.

(Sessions of GATT CPS are held in private and not open to the press. The GATT press office that normally provides copies of speeches had not done so, and explained that Jamal had spoken form notes and not text was available. The Tanzanian delegation later made available to IFDA a copy of the speech).

In his speech, Jamal noted that Tanzania’s share in volume and value of world was infinitesimal, and it was even more so in terms of the world GDP.

But exports and imports were a significant 40 to 45 percent of Tanzania’s GDP, and this depended on the way world prices and financial charges for trade moved.

With eight countries on its land borders and the Indian Ocean on its coast, and the nature of its own external profile, the only viable option for Tanzania lay in its increasing connection with international system of trade and exchange.

The international economic environment now was different from what it was when Tanzania became independent, and GATT was the only framework in which "predictability in conducting international trade can be ensured by means if clearly observed rules of the game, if Contracting Parties so wished".

Underscoring the importance to Tanzania of the Uruguay Round negotiations and its promises in the areas of agriculture, tropical products, and improving the system, Jamal said this was why a recently as at the Vancouver Summit of Commonwealth Governments, the Tanzanian head of government had joined others in commitments "to work for the strengthening of GATT".

Third world participants said that at the informal heads of delegations meeting, and in response to the appeal from Mexico, the U.S. delegate agreed not to make any speech voicing his country’s objections at the formal session, but do it at the informal session.

The speech, they said, was responded to by India on behalf of the informal third world group, by pointing out that all these issues had been dealt with in the informal consultations and clearly answered and settled.

Some smaller industrial country delegates shared the view of other third world delegations that what could have been an ugly situation and blow-up had been fortunately averted by the goodsense shown by the third world group and other parties concerned, and the entire episode could be forgotten.