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Thursday, May 6, 1999 Published at 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK

Business: The Economy

Emergency talks at WTO

Supachai and Moore: the fight goes on

Top delegates at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are meeting again to try appoint a new leader to try to put an end to a bitter battle that has brought the trade body to a standstill.

The WTO has been left rudderless for almost a week after its previous boss stood down. Since then the wrangle between the prospective new candidates for the job has escalated.

The meeting is the latest in a series of talks which have so far failed to resolve the dispute.

The leadership saga is taking new twists and turns, with each side calling on the other one to withdraw its candidate.

The dispute has paralysed an organisation, which should devote most of its time mediating and adjudicating in the world's numerous trade disputes.

[ image:  ]
One candidate is New Zealand's Mike Moore, and his supporters say that their candidate has triumphed.

But the countries in favour of Thailand's Supachai Panitchpakdi insist that the race is still open.

"Dr Supachai enjoys very extensive support in his bid to secure the director-generalship," said a statement published on Wednesday and backed by 55 countries from Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America.

They are especially furious that the chairman of the WTO's governing General Council, Ali Mchumo of Tanzania, last week formally proposed to appoint Mr Moore.

Mr Mchumo says that New Zealand's former prime minister enjoys a slight lead of 62-59 among member states.

Dr Supachai's supporters dispute this.

"The chairman has no authority to exclude any candidate, or to declare that any candidate is out of the race," said Kenya's ambassador Kipkorir Aly Rana, speaking for the whole group.

And Japan's ambassador Nobutoshi Akao told a news conference that "it is very obvious there is no consensus around Mr Moore", suggesting that it "would only be fair to try to build one now around Dr Supachai."

Pause for reflection

There is no sign whatsoever that either side is prepared to compromise. What remains of the WTO leadership has called for a "pause for reflection", and diplomats said the organisation's council could be convened again on Thursday.

If the dispute cannot be resolved - and at the moment there are no signs it can - then a third candidate may have to be chosen.

The dispute cuts right through the East-West and North-South divide.

BBC News' Claire Doole: WTO wants to avoid vote on candidate
The US and many European nations support Michael Moore, while the Asian trading block and the UK have come out in favour of the Thai candidate.

Mr Supachai said that American tactics had alienated many developing countries.

"I was hoping the process would not polarise relations between the United States and Asia. But in the heat of the race some strong statements have been said," he told reporters in Geneva.

But US ambassador Rita Hayes indicated that the United States was prepared to delay any decision until one candidate withdrew.

"It takes a while to form a consensus," she said.


The organisation, with 134 member countries, has been leaderless since last Friday night, when the term of office for director-general Renato Ruggiero expired.

The WTO has named David Hartridge, head of its services division, as acting director, but only to handle routine matters.

The bitter row could not come at a worse time for the WTO - which is struggling to resolve a series of trade disputes between the US and the Europe.

Its future role of administering world trade has been thrown in doubt.

And preparations for the next round of world trade talks - due to start in Seattle in November - have been put into jeopardy by the continuing indecision.

Principles at stake

The dispute is not just about personalities.

The United States, under pressure from environmentalists and trade unions, wants to widen the next round of trade talks to include discussion of labour standards and pollution.

Developing countries fear that this could become an excuse to delay the implementation of free trade agreements that would allow their goods greater access to Western markets.

Mr Moore is believed to be more favourable to the US position on these issues, while Mr Supachai favours the developing countries' views.

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