8:05 AM Jan 17, 1995


Geneva 16 Jan (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- Former Mexican President, Carlos Salinas de Gortari is visiting Geneva on Thursday in his pursuit of the top job at the World Trade Organization.

GATT delegations said a series of meetings for GATT Representatives, individually and in small groups, to call on the former Mexican Head of State is being arranged by the Mexican Mission.

The intention is to allow individual delegations to have conversations with Salinas about his views and plans for the WTO and its programmes, and for him to get a view on the concerns of delegations.

Meanwhile, at an informal consultation Monday by the Chairman of the GATT CPs, Andras Szepesi of Hungary, it was reportedly agreed that the selection process should be completed by mid-February and a new head put in place by the present target date of 15 March.

Increasingly, GATT diplomats are saying that they see no way by which the deadlock among the three being broken, by two of the candidates withdrawing and the third being chosen by consensus. Whatever might have been the chances and attraction of Salinas earlier, the Mexico crisis appears to have queered the pitch, but without helping either of the other two to increase their strength.

Given the high profile, continued endorsement of Salinas by the US, even after the recent Mexican financial and economic crisis (for which both the Zedillo administration and the opposition have blamed Salinas and his failure to take decisions, after the Mexican poll), and the "majority" for the EU candidate Renato Ruggiero (even if that majority is only of the EU, and its associates in Europe, ACP etc) and the continued Asian support for Korea's Kim Chul-Su, any compromise and consensus may have to involve some outsider, even if it is unfair to Ruggiero or Kim, they say.

Such an outsider, they add, has to be a low-profile personality and from a country with credentials of not being closely linked to one or the other of the three major trading powers.

Preferably, they say it should be a person with proven administrative and other capacities to organise and lead the secretariat in a quiet way, and not high profile political or public figures with their own agendas.

While Sutherland and his political profile-raising performance was useful in bringing the 7-1/2 year old negotiations to a successful conclusion, the time ahead is one for consolidation, observers say.

Some GATT observers note that in the race for the job, and the "manifestos" that the candidates have been floating, what is being forgotten (by the candidates and their sponsors) is that the Agreement establishing the WTO has not left much scope for any individual heading it to set his own agenda or shape trade policies or programmes.

The WTO is a framework agreement and an organizational forum for negotiations, but any new issues to be taken up for negotiation is left to the Ministerial Conferences.

The WTO articles, and the various multilateral agreements annexed to it have set out contractual rights and obligations, and individual councils to monitor and administer them.

Unlike the agreements on other international organizations, the WTO agreement has been careful: it provides for a Secretariat to be headed by the DG, for the Ministerial Conference to appoint the DG and set out his "powers, duties, conditions of service and term of office".

But the agreement has refrained from providing (as other international organization agreements do) for any specific powers or initiatives that the head of the secretariat could propose to the governing bodies of the organization.

During the negotiation of the WTO agreement, in November-December 1993, despite the suggestions in private of the current incumbent Peter Sutherland, key delegations -- whether majors like the US or others from the South -- did not agree to any charter provisions, and preferred to continue the GATT practice of the secretariat carrying out from time to time tasks assigned to it by the contracting parties -- whether in preparing a report or a paper etc.

This was essentially because almost all the players were agreed that in a contractual relationship of trade and trade rules, the contracting parties should keep a firm hand on the programmes and agenda, and it should not be a secretariat-driven one.