12:15 PM Nov 23, 1994


Geneva 23 Nov (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- Informal consultations at the GATT to pick a candidate to succeed Peter Sutherland as head of the GATT/WTO are still stalemated, though the European candidate, Renato Ruggiero, appears to have a clear lead over Mexico's President Salinas and South Korean Trade Minister, Kim Chul-Su, trade diplomats said Tuesday.

At an informal meeting of delegations of key countries, the Chairman of the GATT CPs, Andres Szepesi of Hungary, is reported to have advised the group that his consultations had not so far resulted in a situation where he could name a candidate among the three commanding consensus.

However, Szepesi is reported to have told the group that one of the candidates has now a clear lead.

While Szepesi did not name the candidate or disclose the results of his latest head-count, though the EU is reported to have suggested that he could do so and the EU would have no objection.

Trade officials said that both this stand of the EU, and the reluctance of both Mexico and Korea to endorse this proposal, suggested that it was Ruggiero who was leading and the EU was hoping that by bringing it into the open some kind of a 'band-wagon' effect could be achieved.

EU sources said that Ruggiero had a good lead and the support of the majority of GATT members and would ultimately emerge as a consensus choice, though this would need a little more time.

The EU, other trade diplomats speaking on conditions of anonymity said, had clearly been able to get several of the ACP countries, particularly from Africa, to convey to Szepesi their support for Ruggiero and that Salinas perhaps has lost a few supporters.

But with the US backing Salinas and Japan backing Kim there was a continued stalemate in the selection process, they said.

With US Trade Representative Mickey Kantor still committed to and backing Salinas, and Japan and the Asians not abandoning their support to Kim, the stalemate would be broken only when other things fall into place, the diplomat said.

The US, having committed itself at highest levels to Salinas, would need to find a way to accommodate him elsewhere and get his okay to back the Ruggiero candidacy, the diplomat said.

An emerging reality of the WTO, the diplomat said, is that, for the present, the EU would always be able to command large majority support for its stand and, the US, Japan or leading Third World economies have to reckon with this. So they will not easily abandon the 'consensus' practice and allow for voting.

The Wall Street Journal Wednesday meanwhile quoted Ruggiero as saying that "in good part he was encouraged in his candidacy by Mr. Sutherland".

The GATT's press officer David Woods told the press however that Sutherland had been "absolutely neutral" throughout this period of selecting a Director-General and that he had given no more encouragement to any one candidate over another.