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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 06:36 GMT 07:36 UK
New WTO boss backs poor
New WTO chief Supachai Panitchpakdi
Supachai's candidacy was at first opposed by the US

The new head of the World Trade Organisation wants the organisation to focus on the needs of the poor countries.

In an exclusive interview, Supachai Pantchpakdi has told the BBC that the new trade round must make progress on agriculture, the most important export from developing countries.

He has also said he is prepared to sit down and talk to the anti-globalisation protesters who have been targeting the WTO. Supachai Pantchpakdi is a former deputy prime Minster and Trade Minster of Thailand and the first Director General of the WTO from a poor country.

The new boss wants trade to help poor countries
And with his developing world background, he is trying to balance on an awkward tightrope - addressing the concerns of the developing nations have about the WTO without being seen as against the rich countries.

Some industrial nations, notably the United States didn't want him to have the job in the first place. In a BBC interview, Mr Supachai said all that was in the past.

He thinks he now has the backing of those that didn't support him at first.

He sees himself as a representative of the world trading system as a whole, pushing for more open trade to bring balanced benefits for all members to enjoy.


But he is also acutely aware that the WTO's credibility has long been undermined by the constant stream of complaints form the developing world that their interests aren't taken seriously enough.

So what can he do?

He points to the Doha Development Agenda, the trade talks launched by the WTO at a ministerial meeting in the middle east last year.

He says there are a number of items on the agenda that will be of great benefit to developing countries.

His task he says is to ensure that all these items are included in the final agreement from the negotiations; that they don't just remain bits of paper.


Agriculture is the outstanding example.

WTO headquarters in Geneva
The WTO is not getting a firebrand campaigner
The rich countries have promised to negotiate reductions the subsidies they give their farmers - subsidies which make it harder for farmers in other countries to compete.

It's a difficult time to be looking for such action.

It was only a few months ago that the US President George W Bush approved new laws increasing farm supports.

But Mr Supachai is not downhearted.

He says he's confident that the major trading nations understand that they have a lot to gain form a successful conclusion to the Doha negotiations.

He says they understand that to achieve that agriculture has to be the most important element in any agreement.

EU-US tensions

Mr Supachai takes over at a time of fractious trade relations between the US and the European Union.

Last week, a WTO dispute panel gave the EU permission to go ahead with a record level of retaliation over US export subsidies enjoyed by giants such as Boeing and Microsoft.

Steel tariffs erected by the US earlier this year also cast a shadow over the WTO.

Mr Supachai says these quarrels just go to prove the need for such an organisation.

And he says he is concerned that the number of conflicts might escalate in the future.

But he thinks that more could be resolved by consultation between the countries involved - without needing to use the WTO's legal procedures for settling disputes.


He is also prepared for the chorus of complaints he will hear about the WTO from protestors; people who were represented on the streets of Seattle in 1999 when a WTO ministerial meeting ended in acrimonious dissension inside the conference and sometimes violent confrontations between police and demonstrators on the streets.

Their litany of complaints against the organisation is familiar to Mr Supachai - that it is in the pocket of big business, that its trade rules make it impossible to protect the environment, that its free trade agenda is bad for poor people and poor nations.

He wants to talk more to the critics and have rational arguments with them.

He says you don't win arguments by shouting louder. He says he wants a dialogue to make people understand that the WTO really cares.

He will no doubt hear plenty of these criticisms in Johannesburg at the sustainable development summit where he arrives on Tuesday.

To those who say the WTO desecrates the environment, he says - the WTO can't desecrate the environment although the members sometimes do.

He says there are things going on the Doha negotiations - such as moves to reduce fishing subsidies - which are what he calls "win, win, win" - pro-trade, pro-environment, and pro-development.

He believes the three can go hand in hand.

Supachai Pantchpakdi, director general
"I'm most mindful of the needs of the less privileged members of the WTO."

World trade talks


Steel wars

Other disputes

Regional trade deals


See also:

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