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WTO no nearer solution on DG tangle

by Chakravarthi Raghavan


Geneva, 18 June -- The General Council of the World Trade Organization, at a formal meeting Friday, resumed discussion on the choice of a new Director-General, but seemed no nearer any early solution.

And while the United States, the principal promoter of the candidacy of New Zealand's Michael Moore, seemed ready to abandon this candidacy, if a new process, rules and slate was agreed upon that would enable it to manoeuvre the election of another candidate of its choice, the supporters of the Thai candidate Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi were not prepared to give in.

The issue, as one of them put it, has now gone beyond the candidacy of Dr. Supachai. It is now one of whether a rule-based organization can be allowed to be manipulated and function in such a "rule-less" way in the interest of one major trading power that lays down the rule and believes others should fall in line and accept it.

It would make the decision-making situation in the WTO worse than in the old GATT.

The Council broke up for lunch, and was due to resume in the afternoon. A move by Norway to put off the formal meeting was not accepted.

Most of the comments and interventions in effect repeated views expressed Wednesday at an informal session.

The text of the intervention Wednesday by Hong Kong at the informal meeting, which Hong Kong said then should be reflected in the record of formal discussions at the Council, perhaps best summed up the position of the supporters of the Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Trade Minister, Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi.

In the speech, Hong Kong's Stuart Harbinson, said the latest report of the Council chair, Amb. Ali Mchumo showed that it was not possible to form a consensus on his recommendation (to elect New Zealand's Michael Moore). "A very substantial number of members continue to oppose it, as they had all along. No amount of dressing up can disguise that fact."

As Brazil's Amb. Celso Amorim had said, in the context of the question (of electing by consensus) and the size of the membership, the support of 80 for Moore (mentioned by Mchumo) was not a large number.

Lest Hong Kong somehow have been included among the 80 claimed supporters of Moore, said Harbinson, he wished to restate that the Mchumo report of 30 April "was and is an unclear and insufficiently certain basis on which to base any recommendation or make an appointment."

That report, to recap briefly, showed only the narrowest of numerical leads for one candidate.

"It is not customary in this Organization," said the Hong Kong representative, "for us to make recommendations for consensus on such basis. We therefore are among those continuing to oppose it.

We also oppose any extended process based on this unsound foundation."

Hong Kong was glad that the chair had now recognized that consensus on the basis of its recommendation was not viable.

In a biting comment on the view of the US ambassador, Mrs. Rita Hayes (who before taking up the post here was the chief textiles negotiator for the US), Harbinson noted that while some delegations had referred to growing support, "the growth factor, if any, must be so small that it reminds me of the implementation of the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing."

On the Chairman's note that he would have invited the council to draw appropriate conclusions from his report and act accordingly, Harbinson said: "It seems to us that it should still be possible - even after this final confirmation of the demise of your proposal - to appoint one of these two candidates as the DG. As Haiti put it, the process is dead, but the candidates are still alive. The problem is just in finding a mechanism to break the deadlock. I know various efforts have already been made behind the scenes in this direction. These may not have succeeded yet.

But, as long as we base our efforts on the three basic propositions put forward by Australia, we may yet be able to crack the nut."

"In short," said Harbinson, "we think that we should continue to try to find a solution between these two candidates. But through a new mechanism - not one based on a proposal which in our view was not justified by the situation at the time, has been formally objected to, and which in any case is now finished."

There was another important reason for suggesting this, and it concerned timing. It seemed to Hong Kong that there was a much better chance of finding a solution quickly, if they stuck to the two candidates. "Starting a new exercise from scratch will truly be a voyage into the unknown, in terms of both outcome and duration."

Referring to the press statement issued on Tuesday by Mike Moore (on the basis of the note of the Chairman), Harbinson added that he had been surprised on Tuesday afternoon (when he came to the formal General Council meeting after lunch) when a journalist handed over to him a copy of the statement "of one of the candidates".

"This statement seems to portray delegations such as mine as some sort of recalcitrant minority to be bowed into inevitable submission. I find this inaccurate and disappointing. I did not think this was the statement of a candidate committed to being the D.G. of all the Members."

Hong Kong was also disappointed to heard the comment of the New Zealand delegation that implied that delegations like Hong Kong (which did not agree to a consensus on the basis of Mchumo' proposals) "do not hold the institutional interests of the WTO as paramount."

"Our position is that it is precisely for such institutional reasons that we have always objected to the Chairman's proposal. This means that we do not hare New Zealand's view of the reasonableness of the process to date."

In comments Friday morning, the US said it could not agree to any proposal that implied any form of voting.

Any new process would have to involve new rules and new candidates, Mrs. Hayes said.

Responding to this, Hong Kong said that it would not accept the start of any new process which would endanger the candidate that Hong Kong supported, namely, Dr. Supachai. But Hong Kong was surprised to hear from the other side proposals for a new process, with new rules and new candidates, and made Hong Kong wonder whether they were "genuine supporters of Mike Moore." (SUNS4459)

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

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