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Last Updated: Monday, 1 September, 2003, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Head of the WTO
Supachai Panitchpakdi
The much heralded deal to provide cheap medicines to the world's poorest countries was still eluding delegates at the World Trade Organisation meeting in Geneva. Last minute objections mean yet more talks were needed.

This failure to reach agreement came less than two weeks before a crucial WTO conference in Cancun, which it's hoped will result in a whole new round of trade liberalisation.

In an exclusive interview for Newsnight, the Director General of the WTO, Dr Superchai Panitchpakdi talked to our business correpsondent Paul Mason, about the growing problems for the globalisation project.

The unstoppable rise of globalisation, free trade and the living standards of the world's poor. That's the vision on sale at the WTO. The last thing they needed was this, deadlock over a deal that was supposed to bring cheap medicines to Third World countries and sugar the pill for other deals in the offing at Cancun. So what does the man who runs the WTO make of it all?


To most of us here, and to every member country, it's a humanitarian image of the organisation. I am deeply disappointed, not because people have something to say at the last minute. They always do, but they should know that, above some of the interests that they might have, there is something that is even more important than that, which is on a global basis.

If we step aside from the parties to this dispute, how does the failure to reach agreement reflect back on the WTO itself?

It doesn't reflect very well. It does reflect very negatively, particularly in one of our, I would say, the sorest point, the weakest point of our organisation, for which we have been accused of neglecting time and again. With all the things going on since last night, I begin to think that we might deserve this reputation.

The WTO has an image problem. At its heart is agriculture, and that will be an issue at Cancun. Despite eight years of the WTO, the USA and the European Union are still dumping billions of dollars' worth of subsidised produce on the developing world, destroying the living standards of farmers there. So what's the solution?

We need more political involvement. We need more political understanding and we need more understanding of the population at large, the public at large. We need more pressure. We need more pressure so that governments don't have the excuse that they can't embark upon certain areas of agricultural reform because they have some groups of people that are still needing, let's say in the areas of cotton, they still need some huge subsidies which will exceed any kind of international aid altogether, whereas some of the tens of millions of African cotton growers are suffering hundreds of millions every year.

If we can't extend trade liberalisation at Cancun, then won't we already have seen the high watermark of globalisation, and it begins to stagnate if you don't make progress?

Cancun could be a decisive moment, if you talk about globalisation. It could be one of the decisive moments. You are right. Members never discuss things this way, but if I take a look at the globalisation process, which has been tarnished by a lot of negative response in the last few years, with the financial crisis here, there and everywhere, and the growing power of the multinational corporations. If we cannot achieve in setting up better rules that everyone can live with at Cancun, if we cannot agree on some of these rules to improve, then globalisation would not be under prudent guidance.

The USA and Europe are already at odds over steel and GM food. The real worry is that if the WTO can't deliver, the big powers sign their own regional trade agreements or bilateral deals - the so- called RTAs and FTAs - leaving the WTO sidelined.

If you talked about the area of greater interest for the major players, agriculture, you cannot pursue that kind of interest outside of this organisation. In areas of dispute settlement, you cannot pursue it in terms of regional dispute settlements. You have to pursue it here. So there are various areas of interest where they have to pursue their interests within this organisation, but nevertheless we should not take that for granted. We should keep on improving this process and at the same time make sure that the ongoing proliferation of RTAs and FTAs, bilateral FTAs, that they are subject to certain monitoring mechanism.

Many see Cancun as a make- or-break summit, but what would be the cost of failure?

The signal it would send to the rest of the world, under the present uncertainties around the world, in various places, and the fluctuations in the exchange rate and things like that, it would not be a good signal. The share of trade in the global economy is contracting and the level of growth is below the average that we have seen for the 1990s. It's not a very promising period of time and we should not be adding from Cancun some of the... We should be gaining in terms of creating more predictability.

Dr Supachai, thank you very much.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

Newsnight's Paul Mason
had an exclusive interview with the WTO's Director General, Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi.


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