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Another term for Ruggiero?


by Chakravarthi Raghavan




GENEVA: A new headcount and ranking of support for each of the
four candidates in the running for the WTO top job, and
indications that a "not negligible number" of members could
object to one or the other, have made the WTO succession
process murky.
And there has been some talk that there would be an impasse,
and the incumbent Renato Ruggiero might be asked to continue,
and would probably agree if asked by key heads of state
including US President Bill Clinton and French President
Jacques Chirac.
The new headcount, of first- and second-preference choices
for each candidate, and indications that some candidates could
be blocked, were given to a formal meeting of the General
Council on 20 January by the sole facilitator, Amb. William
Rossier of Switzerland, who had held a new round of
consultations on 13, 14 and 15 January.

Prospect of Ruggiero continuing

Before the outcome of this new headcount was announced to the
WTO membership, but after the completion of the Rossier
consultations, on 19 January the French newspaper Le Figaro, in
a report (by its Geneva correspondent, M. Laurent Mossu, who
has a reputation for good news sources in the WTO and the EU),
had raised the possibility of Ruggiero continuing as WTO
Director-General.
Such an outcome is discounted by many, with some developing
countries voicing their criticism in informal conclaves but not
in the General Council, and a few continuing to talk of a
decision by vote by the 30 April deadline or allowing Ruggiero
to retire as he has announced he wants to, leaving the post
vacant for a while, and the secretariat run by a senior or a
group of senior officials.
But some trade officials and key diplomats, speaking on
condition of anonymity, say that such a course is unlikely, and
feel that Ruggiero may be asked to continue, and that he will
do so only for another fixed term, maybe one of two years.
The preparatory process for the next Ministerial meeting end
December, and the need for a successful outcome and launch of
a new round of negotiations in agriculture, services, and other
new and old issues, would be given as a reason for such a
course, these diplomats said.
The way the issues and process are being handled is going to
do great harm to the WTO, Le Figaro said, citing in the overall
balance sheet the major US-EC disputes and fights over bananas
and beef hormone-treated cattle, and the inability of both to
take a stand on the four candidates, with the WTO unable to
choose a successor without US-EC support, and the Third World
countries (which command a very large majority inside the 133-
member WTO) fighting among themselves and unable to exploit the
differences among the majors or to assert themselves. After the
General Council meeting on 20 January, there was serious talk
that none of the four candidates would make it - through either
not garnering a big enough majority support or the US or any of
the EU members blocking one or the other candidate.
In such an event, it was suggested, Ruggiero, whose term
(along with that of his deputies) expires on 30 April, may be
asked to continue, although Ruggiero would likely want a
specific term.
Till December, the WTO's spokesman Keith Rockwell had
insisted that Ruggiero would definitely lay down office at the
end of his term (30 April), and that he was scheduled to sail
off on a cruise ship from Southampton (in the UK) on that date.
For the record, on 20 January, the new sailing date was given
out as 15 May.
Other trade officials said that if a deadlock develops and
no one is chosen, and if President Clinton, Jacques Chirac or
someone holding a similar position rings up Ruggiero and asks
him to continue, Ruggiero can't refuse and walk away leaving
the secretariat "headless", although he would probably not
continue (like Sutherland did in 1995) for a short period, but
would want a new term.
When Ruggiero was chosen in 1995, it was on the specific
basis that he would have one fixed four-year term and not seek
a second term, and that his successor would be from outside
Europe (with developing countries at that time believing this
meant it would be a Third World person).
It is possible that everyone would agree on one of the four,
and the US or the EU would not block a candidate commanding
majority support. But if there is an impasse, and Ruggiero
continues, howsoever it is presented, the WTO's image and
credibility among the public, particularly in the developing
world, will take a major hit.
The new headcount, made public in press briefings by the WTO
(and the detailed statement of Rossier that was made available
to the members, but withheld from the media, unlike the earlier
two reports by Celso Lafer and Rossier), brought out that:
* the Thai Deputy Prime Minister, Supachai Panitchpakdi, was
leading with 40 first preferences, followed by 23 for Hassan
Abouyoub of Morocco, 15 for Roy MacLaren of Canada, and 13 for
Mike Moore of New Zealand;
* on the basis of second preferences, Moore edged forward
to the top of the list with 26 votes, Supachai with 19,
Abouyoub with eight and MacLaren with five; and
* while the great majority were willing to join the
consensus whatever the final choice, a "not negligible number"
said they would not be in a position to join automatically in
a consensus if it formed around a candidate other than those
for whom they have indicated a first or second preference. Of
the 133 members, 28 (12 with offices in Geneva, and others
outside) did not respond to contacts by Rossier.

Charade


There have been some competent trade observers who, from the
start of the selection process (of choosing one among the four
nominees) and the talk of a candidate from the South taking the
post, have seen it as a charade for public consumption, and
predict that in the end the two major trading entities (the US
and the EU+EC) would block each other's choice or any
developing-country candidate, and ask Ruggiero to continue at
least till the end of 1999 (when the 3rd Ministerial meeting is
to be held in the US, and a new round of negotiations with old
and new issues is sought to be launched).
While trade diplomats and officials till recently dismissed
such talk, after 20 January's formal meeting of the General
Council (where Rossier provided a report on his new round of
consultations), and unofficial reports from out of Washington
and Brussels, some key trade diplomats and officials were no
longer ready to rule out this possibility.
Initially, in announcing his retirement and inviting the WTO
General Council to select a successor, Ruggiero had indicated
he would be happy if a successor could be named by the end of
the month, in effect suggesting he would even leave earlier
than 30 April.
But in late November, in announcing moves for WTO symposia
on Trade and Environment and Trade and Development (to be held
in end March), the WTO spokesman had said Ruggiero would be
organizing and chairing them, as desired by the membership.
And on 20 January, trade officials were suggesting that many
WTO members are requesting him to stay on and complete the
preparations for the 3rd Ministerial and the launching of the
new negotiations.

No definite position


The text of the Rossier report, obtained from WTO members at
the meeting, showed him as stating that the WTO was now at a
"different stage" of the decision-making process than in
November, and questions had been posed to members well enough
in advance.
"Unfortunately," he said, "I have been forced to recognize
that certain delegations are still not in a position to give a
clear reply to the questions asked. They gave me comments,
orientations and tendencies, but not clear answers. Some other
delegations did inform me of their position but stated that
they formally reserved the right to change that position if
certain developments were to occur."
"Consequently," added Rossier, "I will not be able to give
you a definitive report until I am in possession of important
information still lacking today."
The members were asked about the preference of their
authorities among the four for appointment by consensus.
A second question posed was of the second preference for
appointment by consensus, if the first choice did not get a
consensus. The third question was about the views on the
remaining candidates.
Rossier reported that a large number of delegations confined
themselves to replying only to the first of the questions
posed, while some others replied only on their first and second
preferences, but not to the third question. While a great
majority of those who responded to the third question said they
could join in a consensus whatever the final choice, a "not
negligible" number, on the contrary, said they would not be
able to join automatically in a consensus formed around a
candidate who was not their first or second preference, and
would want to be consulted again in such an event. This was
also the position of those who indicated only their first
preference.
The Rossier report also said that in terms of geographical
distribution, Thailand's Supachai enjoyed the broadest support
in the first and second preferences, spread across all
continents. The second broadest and "worldwide" (term used by
Rossier) support went to Moore, while Abouyoub's support was
"essentially, but not exclusively", regional. MacLaren's
position was similar to, but more pronounced than, that of
Abouyoub.
In the comments and statements that followed, according to
some trade diplomats, Mexico, supported by Jamaica, wanted the
suspension of the meeting for reflection, while Egypt said the
position was now more clear and transparent. The EC said the EU
had difficulties, but was not giving up on choosing a single
candidate.
Zimbabwe, for the African group, insisted that the next
Director-General must come from among the four on the slate.
Pakistan in effect suggested that the Rossier process was
now complete.
Amb. Weekes of Canada, Chairman of the Council, said it was
clear the Council was in a new phase and it must move at a
faster pace.
The Council was to meet again on 26 January.
The informal developing country group was due to meet on 21
January afternoon.
Some European sources noted that both the US Trade
Representative (USTR) Mme Barshefsky and the EC Trade
Commissioner and Vice-President, Sir Leon Brittan would be at
the Davos Symposium at the end of January, and the two could
reach a modus vivendi.
[Ruggiero, it was confirmed, would not attend the
symposium.]
But other EC sources noted that the EU council of ministers,
at their meeting in Brussels on 15 January, had been deadlocked
on the choice, and Brittan (who personally favoured MacLaren)
had not been helpful in facilitating an EU decision.
According to these sources, and some trade diplomats in
Geneva, at the EU meeting in Brussels, the 15 EU members were
divided, with some favouring Supachai and others Abouyoub. It
was then suggested that the EU should at least take a stand of
choosing from among the developing- country candidates
(Supachai and Abouyoub).
However, the UK (which initially had supported MacLaren, and
when MacLaren was found trailing last in earlier consultations,
had been reported as having advised Bangkok that it now
favoured Supachai) announced at the Brussels meeting that it
supported MacLaren. And an official of Brittan's division of
the EC secretariat said there was no hurry for the EU to take
a decision, and there was enough time.
Some EC sources said the UK change of mind was at the
instance of the US which sought its support on MacLaren as a
second choice.

US preference

Some other sources said that while the US has now come out
more openly for Moore, it has not specifically said so, but
that the USTR is expected to instruct the US representatives
here to advise Rossier that the first preference of the US was
for Moore and the second for MacLaren. At the same time, US
officials were said to be advising some of its friends and
supporters keen to launch a new round, including on
agriculture, that it would be difficult to get support from
Congress for a new round and fast track, if the WTO is headed
by a personality from the South. The sources said all this
could mean that if the US cannot get its way on Moore, it would
use Congress to withhold support for Supachai or Abouyoub, and
agree to Ruggiero continuing at least till the end of the year
and the launch of new negotiations.
Some developing countries are saying they would call for a
decision by vote before 30 April or, if this is not accepted,
allow Ruggiero to leave and the secretariat to function without
a head, until one is chosen.
But some others doubt they will say this at the WTO Council
and formally stand by it, denying a consensus for an extension
for Ruggiero, if the US and EC move for it. (Third World Economics
No. 202, 1-15 February 1999)

This article was originally published in the South-North
Development Monitor (SUNS) No. 4358, of which Chakravarthi Raghavan
is the Chief Editor.

 


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