8:11 AM Dec 1, 1994


Geneva 1 Dec (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- When the World Trade Organization comes into being on 1 January 1995, short of a last-minute miracle it may be starting off without a new head, according to several GATT diplomats.

And if some of the statements at Wednesday's Prepcom meeting be any guide, the WTO may not have much feet either (it won't have a headquarters agreement with the Swiss, and its most important member, the US may not implement the WTO as others expect it, namely, in good faith)

This assessment about a WTO head came after a Wednesday evening meeting of key heads of delegations where the Chairman of the Contracting Parties, Andras Szepesi of Hungary reported on his latest round of consultations to pick a successor to the current GATT head, Peter Sutherland.

Reports after the meeting were somewhat varied, with EU sources suggesting that Ruggiero would now be named, while others did not see this happening unless there is some last-minute US-EC deal which would be acceptable to others.

But any US-EC deal favouring Ruggerio is only seen as feasible after a time -- with Sutherland holding the WTO job, atleast temporarily.

Szepesi reportedly told the meeting that, with three candidates in the running (Salinas Gortari of Mexico - who lays down his office as Mexican President Thursday - Renato Ruggiero of Italy and South Korea's Kim Chul Su) and none of them or their supporters backing down or switching sides he was getting nowhere in the consultations and that there was a stalemate.

The EU is reported to have questioned the 'stalemate', arguing that its candidate Ruggiero had now the backing of a clear 51% of the CPs (following the endorsement Tuesday in Brussels of the Ruggiero candidacy by the ACP countries), and that following other precedents (like the choice of a WTO headquarters), there should be a formal consensus established around Ruggiero.

This view though was not acceptable either to Mexico or Korea, with Korea arguing that in fact it was gathering new support.

There was one view that once the US Senate vote is out of the way and the US ratification issue was resolved, the US would make a major effort for the election of Salinas.

Both President Clinton and the US Trade Representative Mickey Kantor are reported to have made some personal commitments to Salinas and owe him something for having helped Clinton (in compromises via side agreements on environment and labour standards) to get NAFTA through the US Congress.

According to some trade diplomats, the US has been trying (unsuccessfully so far) to engage in some horse-dealing to win over Kim's backers and supporters in Asia by promising a Deputy D.G. post -- though to some it is put as from 'East Asia', to others as from 'Asean', and still others of an Asian.

An Indian, Anwar Hoda, is already a Deputy Director-General. The two others are Warren Lavorel from United States and Jesus Seade from Mexico.

However, the Europeans are reporting to be standing firm behind Ruggiero -- not allowing any alternative candidacy to emerge -- on the basis that the EC and other Europeans by this can ensure that the WTO top job does not go out of Europe.

There are some who see the Americans making a big push behind Salinas, or atleast appear to be doing so (before gently letting him down), and giving way, but not in favour of Ruggiero or Kim.

Kantor is reported as not overly impressed by Ruggiero or Kim.

Forseeing perhaps some stalemate, some diplomats known to be closer to American thinking are noting that Sutherland's term or contract in any event runs till next July, that the WTO agreement itself envisages the GATT head being the WTO head until a successor is chosen by the Ministerial Conference, and there is no particular reason to force a choice before 1 January.

Sutherland has three deputies under him, but none as the number two, to act or take his place, and there is more of a committee or collegiate style of functioning of his three deputies in Sutherland's absence -- hardly a way to kick off the WTO.

Sutherland has been repeatedly saying that he is not interested in the WTO job, but will not walk away on 31 December if no successor is chosen. But any attempt to keep him for a year or two in the WTO job might run into objections from the Europeans who want to demonstrated their muscle by getting their choice elected.

Sutherland could have had the top job for the asking, and he would have been backed by the developing countries who saw him as one who had championed their cause and taking the two majors publicly to task over their positions.

Even if the Americans would go along -- as a compromise if they cannot get Salinas (and some Americans seem to believe that Salinas can't be sold to others) -- the Europeans may not.

Having repeatedly announced his disinterest and having advised the CPs on the eve of Marrakesh to look for a successor, his continuing for a term (a year or two) on being asked to do so would not help kick off the WTO with credibility, some Europeans say in private.

While moving around the globe, delivering speeches and visiting leaders in capitals, to drum up support for the WTO, he is pictured by some as 'switched off' -- though in some personal conversations with outsiders, Sutherland appears to be mentally 'engaged' in many unsettled issues and the problems that will be faced in WTO by developing countries.