4:56 AM Jun 22, 1994


Geneva 21 Jun (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The candidacy of Salinas de Gortari, President of Mexico, for the post of the Director-General of the World Trade Organization is reported to have been officially presented to the Chairman of the GATT Contracting Parties.

Salinas, who under the Mexican constitution cannot run for re-election nor hold any office, is due to lay down his office in December, and several weeks ago, the United States delegation is reported to have sounded others on their reactions to this candidacy.

The official presentation of Salinas candidacy has come even as Argentina which endorsed this candidacy at the Ibero-American summit has withdrawn its endorsement of Salinas and reiterating its earlier endorsement of Brazilian Finance Minister, Rubens Ricupero for the WTO post.

There are now three officially announced candidates - Ricupero, Salinas and the former Italian Trade Minister Renato Ruggiero.

The Chairman of the GATT CPs, Amb. Andras Szepesi of Hungary, is holding the consultations on the selection of a candidate. But serious consultations and the choice are likely only after September.

After last week's Ibero-American Summit, there were reports that the Salinas candidacy had received the endorsement by consensus at that summit and that President Menem of Argentina had initiated it.

But other diplomats in Geneva reported that even Argentine diplomats had been surprised.

Later it became known that the consensus had been announced when Brazilian President Itamar Franco was not at the meeting. He had left the meeting with his foreign minister and other aides because of the sudden death, after a massive coronary, of his nephew and private secretary, leaving in the meeting hall only the Brazilian ambassador to Bogota, who could not speak at that meeting.

Angered by what was considered by it to be inacceptable action, Brazil cancelled a visit to Brazil by the Argentine Foreign Minister and sent a protest to Buenos Aires.

In response, the Argentine Foreign Minister, Guido Di Tellla in a letter to the Brazilian Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim (a copy of which was obtained from Brazilian sources), said that both President Menem and himself had been "involuntary participants in a regrettable chain of events" at Cartegena based on the assumption that "the support requested by Salinas de Gortari" had been the subject of a previous understanding with Brazil.

It was now clear to Argentina, the letter said, that when the issue came up at the Ibero-American summit, the scheduled meeting between Itamar Franco and Salinas de Gortari had not taken place and that Brazil maintained the candidacy of Ricupero.

This, together with the absence of a Brazilian representative at the meeting, "impedes full consensus to support Salinas de Goratari and I have affirmed this to the Foreign Minister of Colombia, Noemi Samim" and he was also sending a formal note on this, Guido Di Tella said in this letter.

The Argentine Foreign Minister added: "I would like, at any rate, to formally establish that my Government considers that what occurred in Cartegena was nothing more than an interchange of opinions favourable to candidacy of President Salinas de Gortari, without due consideration to the candidacy of Minister Rubens Ricupero. In our view, therefore, the region should continue to examine both postulations. In this respect I am satisfied to inform you that Argentina endorses Minister Ricupero to occupy the post of Director-General of the WTO".

Other Third World diplomats said this left the issue confused, including on any conversations that might have taken place between Salinas and Menem at Cartegena. However, they said, if both candidacies were maintained and there was no single Latin American candidate, it would be a regrettable development as each of the two Latin Americans might cancel the other and the Europeans might be able to push ahead with the Italian candidacy or enable some other candidate from the OECD countries to emerge.