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Wednesday, June 16, 1999 Published at 18:27 GMT 19:27 UK

Business: The Economy

Attempt to end WTO deadlock fails

Both candidates insist they are in with a chance

A new attempt to choose a director-general for the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has failed, as the supporters of the two declared candidates refused to back down or allow a new contest.

World trade wars
A meeting of the WTO's ruling general council on Wednesday afternoon was bogged down for the most part in procedural wrangling.

It was adjourned after four hours and is due to sit again on Friday morning.

Trade officials said there was no progress on the question who should get the trade watchdog's top job. The US trade envoy Rita Hayes, meanwhile, ruled out to start a new contest with fresh candidates.

The organisation has been without a leader since the last director-general, Renato Ruggiero of Italy, left the post at the end of April.

There are two leading candidates for the job - New Zealand's Mike Moore and Thailand's Supachai Panitchpakdi.

Neither of them has a truly decisive majority, and both sides claim they have the numbers on their side.

The WTO, compromising 134 members, is split down the middle over the decision, and delegates have been arguing for months over who has more support with each side calling on the other one to withdraw its candidate.

The US and many European nations support Mr Moore, while the Asian trading block and the UK have come out in favour of the Thai candidate.

The deadlock comes at a crucial time for the WTO, which is supposed to be preparing for a new round of trade talks that begin in September.

Still in the race

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

[ image:  ]
Thailand insisted it is still in the leadership race and has repeated a call for its candidate to be formally put forward for a vote at the WTO's governing council.

"We are still in the race. We don't think it would be fair to look at a third candidate at this time - the process has not worked itself out yet," Kobsak Chutikul, the foreign ministry's director-general for economic affairs.

Supporters of Dr Supachai - including members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, Japan and Mexico - have been coming under increasing pressure to withdraw their objections to New Zealand's candidate with the chairman of the organisation's ruling general council saying that many of the WTO's members were ready to back the former New Zealand prime minister.

Support switched

On Tuesday, Ali Mchumo of Tanzania, wrote to envoys saying that about 80 countries had told him they could endorse Mr Moore while others had stayed silent, implying they could support a consensus in his favour.

Mr Mchumo's figures suggest that some 20 former supporters of Dr Supachai had switched sides since he proposed the New Zealander's appointment on 30 April. At that time Mr Moore was leading narrowly by 62 to 59.

Mr Kobsak repeated Thailand's view that Dr Supachai had not been given a fair chance because, unlike Mr Moore, he had not had his name put forward at the council as a candidate around which a consensus might be formed.

"Our side is still trying to push for a formal presentation of Supachai's candidature to the council. If that is made then we can see if countries express difficulties formally it would be out in the open," he said.

New selection process

Meanwhile, Mike Moore accused his opponents of deliberately deadlocking the selection process in order to allow a third candidate to be selected.

"The reality is there have been some people who six months ago knew that the best way to get their person through was to create a situation where there's a deadlock," Mr Moore said in an interview with Radio New Zealand.

WTO members many now be asked to "draw the appropriate conclusions".

While some countries are keen to see a formal vote, most believe that failure to reach a consensus agreement would oblige the trade organisation to launch a new selection process - a procedure which could take many months with no guarantee that there would not be further deadlock.

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