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Sunday, May 2, 1999 Published at 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK

Business: The Economy

WTO leadership battle escalates

Mike Moore, battling to become the new boss of the WTO

A group of 10 nations, including the United States, have intervened in the row over the future of the World Trade Organisation by calling on Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand to bow out of the race to become new leader of the organisation.

World trade wars
The move came as members of the WTO prepare to meet again on Monday to try and break the deadlock over its next director-general.

The WTO has been thrown into turmoil by the leadership contest which has divided the nations of the world.

Members have been unable to decide between the former prime minister of New Zealand, Mike Moore, and Supachai Panitchpakdi from Thailand at sessions on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.

"The obvious way out of this crisis would be for Dr Supachai to bow out voluntarily," the 10 nations who met in Geneva on Sunday said in a statment, read out by Uruguay's ambassador to the WTO, Carlos Perez del Castillo.

"Until this matter of the appointment of the new director-general is resolved, the substantive work of the WTO on other important issues will be paralysed," the countries said.


The WTO is now without a leader, following the expiry of the term of office of Renato Ruggiero. He said he would not stay on until his successor was appointed.

Ali Mchumo, the Tanzanian chairman of the WTO's decision-making council, told a meeting that he would formally propose Mr Moore as he had the support of 62 nations, while 59 countries in the 134 member organisaton were in favour of his rival.

But the supporters of Mr Supachai are putting up a fight. Japan and members of the Asean regional grouping called for a formal vote to select the new WTO leader.

Mr Moore's friends strongly reject such a vote.

After hectic negotiations on Friday at the organisation's headquarters in Geneva, a WTO spokesman said that "it was the considered opinion that Mr. Moore faced less opposition to his candidacy".

A WTO official described Saturday's meeting as "testy, tense and not terribly pleasant".

Mike Moore

[ image: Mike Moore believes in the free market]
Mike Moore believes in the free market
Mr Moore is 50 years old and a former New Zealand prime minister and trade minister. He has been involved in trade and foreign policy issues for many years.

He is a social democrat from the liberal reformist wing of New Zealand's Labor Party. He is a supporter of free trade, but also an advocate for underprivileged and less powerful smaller states.

Going to the brink

The World Trade Organisation had been due to agree on Friday to a new director general before the term of office of Renato Ruggiero ran out at 2300 GMT (midnight local time).

[ image: Immediate past WTO boss Renato Ruggiero]
Immediate past WTO boss Renato Ruggiero
Many fear that the credibility of the organisation will suffer because the deadline to name a successor was not met.

Correspondents say many deadlines have been missed already, and member states are becoming increasingly partisan.

EU could hold the key

The two main contenders, Thai Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Supachai, and the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mike Moore, have fought a long and hard campaign for the office.

Claire Doole: "WTO credibility could be impaired"
Dr Supachai has the support of Japan and most Asia states, while the United States and several European countries are pushing for Mr Moore.

The European Union itself is split on the issue. The Netherlands and the UK have been supporting Dr Supuchai while others said they preferred Mr Moore.

The WTO is administering international trade relations, based on a set of rules agreed by the organisations 134 member countries.

It is a successor to GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

The WTO is currently mediating in a number of trade disputes between the United States and the European Union over EU banana imports, US beef exports and other issues.

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