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DG election compromise not in the bag - yet

by Chakravarthi Raghavan


Geneva, 15 July -- The General Council of the World Trade Organization Thursday put off consideration of a compromise proposal to end the impasse over the selection of a Director-General, pending further consultation among members.

The compromise, mooted by Australia and Bangladesh, for resolving the deadlock, by agreeing to elect for 3-year fixed terms, in succession, the two contenders, Mike Moore of New Zealand and Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand, was to have been "discussed" at an informal meeting of the General Council Thursday morning.

But at the suggestion of Bangladesh and Australia, discussion on the proposal which had been circulated to members, was put off, without fixing a new date for considering the subject.

Before the informal meeting began, Chairman of the General Council, Amb. Ali Mchumo expressed the hope that the problem could be resolved soon, but did not seem ready at this time to take over the proposal and place it before the Council.

The US ambassador, Mrs.Rita Hayes, did not commit herself to the proposal, but said it has been discussed in the "circuit-breaker" meetings organized by Bangladesh and Australia and everyone agreed there should be further consultations. This was one among many proposals out there and the US was looking at them. But the WTO proceeded on consensus and it takes them a lot of time to reach consensus.

At the informal, Mchumo drew attention to the Bangladesh- Australia proposal, a "draft General Council decision" on the appointment of a Director-General, but said that it was not his intention to have a discussion on the matter at this meeting since a number of delegations were awaiting instructions from their capitals. He was therefore postponing a discussion and decision, but said one would be needed over the next few days.

After the less than 5-minute informal meeting of the Council, Bangladesh ambassador Iftikhar Ahmed Chouwdhury said that Australia and Bangladesh had merely wanted the informal meeting as an "exercise in transparency" for all members to know about the compromise proposal, and that consultations were still needed.

Other delegations who spoke unattributively after the meeting said that while no one seemed happy with the proposal, and many seem nevertheless willing to go along with it rather reluctantly, there were some who were raising "systemic" issues and implications, and further consultations are expected to be held by Australia and Bangladesh, to bring about a consensus around the proposal.

While the draft decision proposed does not specify which of the two candidates -- Moore or Supachai -- is to take the job first, Thailand and ASEAN, and many of the Supachai supporters seem agreeable to Moore taking the job first - from 1 Sep. 1999 to 31 Aug. 2002, and for Supachai from 1 Sep 2002 to 31 Aug 2005.

This would mean that Moore would be there as DG at Seattle for the launching of a new round of negotiations, but not to complete it, while Supachai will take over the post in time to complete the negotiations.

As Chowdhury explains it, he had initially sounded out the idea in the General Council mid-May, and had proposed it at the June meeting, and in a series of consultations, the proposal has been formulated in some detail -- except for the decision on who should take the post first.

At the June meeting, Ambassador Celso Amorim of Brazil (supporter of Supachai) had referred to this as one of the ideas floating around, and mentioned it as "Solomon-like", in effect drawing the biblical analogy.

But in the biblical anecdote, two women claim a child as theirs and seek judgement from King Solomon. His judgement required the child being cut into two by a sword and each woman getting one part. The first hails and accepts the judgement, while the second asks Solomon to spare the child and give it to the first woman to be brought up. Thereupon Solomon recognizes the second as the true mother and awards the child to her.

Referring to this, one key developing country ambassador said "we now have a situation, where the two claimants have agreed on sharing the post successively... and we can't exercise Solomon's wisdom."

But a large number of delegations feel that however bad for the system, it was better to end the impasse, by agreeing to this "second- or third-best" solution - and enable delegations and countries to get on with the WTO business, with less reliance on institutional heads.

At a meeting of the Supachai supporters earlier this week, where the proposal was discussed, members were reluctant, but generally agreed with the principle of splitting the term to resolve the dispute.

However, Morocco spoke against it.

The Bangladesh-Australia draft says that a Director-General shall appoint Deputy Directors-General in consultation with Members for a period limited to his own incumbency, meaning that Moore and Supachai will each appoint their own DDGs.

Some of the delegations want that the issue of deputy Directors- General (how many, and who) also to be decided now. Others fear that this would make any decision impossible.

Many delegations expect that the General Council would be able to meet by next week, and decide to agree on the proposal.

But if no decision is taken by the end of July, some delegations said, the General Council would have to set in motion a new process - with no guarantee of a satisfactory solution even then. (SUNS4478)

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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