Salinas Eagerly Eyes Top Job in World Trade Organization Mexican President Faces Competition in Bid for New Post

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ARCHITECT of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Inflation fighter. Senor Privatization. Now, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari wants to add another title to his resume: chairman of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

By law, the 46-year-old Harvard economist can't be reelected. And he's too young and ambitious to retire when his term expires Dec. 1. Taking over the helm of the WTO - a new, more powerful organization that succeeds the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in January 1995 - would be a coup for Mr. Salinas. "The WTO chair will be an extremely important post," says Paula Stern, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington. "He or she will be inaugurating a whole new chapter in international trade."

During GATT's transition stage, a strong leader could build the WTO into the premier international trade regulatory body envisioned some 50 years ago, says William Cline, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics. "Salinas would be a superb candidate," Mr. Cline says. "His political stature, combined with his economic experience in international trade and development, would bring a new dimension to the GATT job." But, he adds, "a weak director would create an organization which falls short of its potential."

Originally, the International Trade Organization was to be set up alongside the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. But the US Congress vetoed it. Instead, GATT was created 47 years ago on a "temporary" basis to oversee trade negotiations. The WTO was finally established by the last round of negotiations, the Uruaguay Round, which was completed in December.

The WTO will have more teeth in dispute resolution. And the Uruguay Round agreement has expanded the trade regime to include services and intellectual property rights. "We're seeing an enormous expansion in responsibility and coverage of world trade," says David Woods, a spokesman for the GATT Secretariat in Geneva. He estimates that the inclusion of services will double GATT's volume of trade from the current level of about $3.5 trillion.

More countries are signing on to the trade regulatory regime. In February 1993, GATT membership totaled 106. Now there are 123 member countries, with another 20 countries (including China) expected to be admitted in the next year or two.

When trade disputes arise, member countries will no longer be able to ignore GATT dispute panel rulings. …