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Tuesday, August 31, 1999 Published at 21:38 GMT 22:38 UK

Business: The Economy

Supachai Panitchpakdi, the World Trade chief-in-waiting

Thailand's deputy prime minister: a strong free trade supporter

New World Trade organisation chief Mike Moore may be an advocate of the developing world, but his designated successor is even more so.

World trade wars
Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi, deputy prime minister of Thailand, is a respected economist with much experience in trade negotiations.

He played a crucial role in leading Thailand out of its worst economic crisis in 50 years.

The 52-year-old, who is also Thai commerce minister, has been a strong supporter of free trade since his student days. He did a PhD in development economics under Nobel Prize-winner Jan Tinbergen at Rotterdam's Erasmus University.

When the trade organisation leadership contest hit a stand-off, a compromise deal was agreed, under which the six-year tenure will be divided in two.

Mr Moore will do the top job for three years until September 2002, and Dr Supachai - known to Thais as Dr Sup - will follow him for three.

His campaign for the top trade job won the support of most Asian countries including Japan, a large chunk of the African nations and about half the 15 members of the European Union.

Developing countries' hopes

However, the United States government backed his main opponent, former New Zealand premier Mike Moore, a stance which enraged Thailand, which considers itself a close US ally.

"During the Vietnam War, we were very close friends with the US," said one of Mr Supachai's aides, MP Pirapan Salirathavibhaga.

"Maybe they just forgot their old friend. The Thai people will never do that."

Developing nations hope that Dr Supachai will be a champion for poorer economies and give them a stronger voice in Geneva.

He says his first priority will be to broaden the WTO and ensure the benefits of free trade are evenly spread, rather than concentrated in advanced economies.

He adds: "There are additional problems - falling trade volumes, unemployment. If trade can help solve these we can help advance the cause of international liberal trade."

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