7:04 AM Dec 12, 1994


Geneva 12 Dec (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- Stalemated in their six-month long effort to pick a personality to lead the new World Trade Organization which comes into being on 1 January, GATT Contracting Parties Friday suspended their session pending further consultations.

After a heads-of-delegations meeting Friday, several participants said the race was stalemated and the best that could be hoped for before year-end would be a decision to ask Sutherland to continue into the New Year while further attempts to find a consensus are made.

Before the meeting, the Chairman of the GATT CPs, Andras Szepesi of Hungary, had a luncheon meeting with a few key delegates, where the European Union is reported to have attempted to get him to announce the fact of the majority behind the EU candidate, Renato Ruggiero of Italy.

The EU has been hoping that once Szepesi, who has been doing the head-counts in several rounds of consultations, confirms the EU claim of a 64 or 65 contracting parties backing Ruggiero, there would be a bandwagon behind him, and Mexico's Carlos Salinas de Gottari and Korea's Kim Chul-su would withdraw and Ruggiero can be elected by 'consensus'.

But both at the lunch, and in other consultations, Mexico and Korea were not ready to give way, and Szepesi reportedly has been unwilling to steam-roller any particular candidate as a 'consensus' choice, by giving his head counts, and thus going against the GATT traditions.

The Europeans were trying to promote the view that no one could head WTO/GATT without support of either the US or Europe and that Kim, since he had backing of neither should withdraw, and that Salinas, with no backing outside the region, should also withdraw, leaving the field free for Ruggiero.

This 'Eurocentric logic' does not appear to have got through to others, and the Korea and Mexican candidacies were being maintained.

Other delegations generally agree that no one can head the WTO in the face of opposition from EU and US, but that the view that the two can together force their way on others, or individually can get others to line up behind them visavis others is to overlook the new economic and other power realities, and that views of Japan as well as some major players in the South can't be ignored.

Ruggiero himself may have queered his pitch -- after his visit to Washington to get US support-- when, in a press interview, he appeared to have attempted to administer a warning that if he be not chosen, there would be a risk of transatlantic rift.

In pushing his own candidacy, and his superior abilities over Salinas and Kim, Ruggiero was quoted by Reuters as saying from Washington that he was not EU's "yes man" but that "I can represent the transatlantic interest better than citizens of Mexico and South Korea" and that without him providing the glue for a transatlantic bridge, "there will be no free trade, no multilateral trade".

Whether he did or did not win "friends" in Washington -- where the US Trade Representative Mickey Kantor is portrayed as not impressed by Ruggiero from beginning -- GATT diplomats who saw the report of the Ruggiero interview in the GATT daily press review were hardly impressed.

Meanwhile, Mexico was reportedly sending emissaries to some key capitals and Salinas, now that he is not the Mexican President, is said to be planning visits to some Asian and African capitals to win their support and that New Delhi and Cairo was on his itinerary.

But Salinas, observers noted, would have a hard time convincing Asians about his candidacy as a 'voice of the South' -- given the drive under Salinas, to align Mexico with the US in NAFTA and Mexico's opposition to thwart efforts of India, Malaysia, Indonesia and a few others to function as a Summit level Group of 15 countries from the South.

Interestingly, and contrary to some earlier prognostications, there was no word after the Miami Americas Summit that the Heads gathered there had endorsed Salinas.

After the Friday GATT heads of delegation meeting, several participants said there was no basis for any credible consensus to be established behind any candidate and that there was a stalemate, and further political contacts and consultations would be needed.

Some of them said that it would be necessary to have an 'interim arrangement' by asking the incumbent GATT Director-General to continue to hold the fort, and that they believed that this would have to be done before diplomats and others broke off for xmas holidays.

The US is reported to be reconciled to this, if it would not welcome it. However, the EU is said to be opposed to this, fearing any such move would result in a fresh process -- of candidacies being invited and possible strengths of each having to be established.

The Preparatory Committee is due to meet on 21 December to wrap up outstanding questions (including agreeing on the composition of the Textiles Monitoring Body), and by then some interim decision too on the WTO head.