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WTO: Supachai Panitchpakdi Takes Over

How does the new WTO Director General view the challenges that lie ahead?

September 2, 2002

How does the new WTO Director General view the challenges that lie ahead?

On September 2, 2002, Supachai Panitchpakdi became the first WTO Director General from the developing world. Like most Thai men, he spent a brief period as a Bhuddist monk — and still practices the meditation techniques he learnt in the monastery. Our new Read My Lips feature explores why his spiritual training might come in handy as the WTO steers through new and challenging times.

Why is the new Doha trade round so important?

“We are trespassing into the non-trade areas. We’ll be seeing negotiations in areas of trade and environment — we’ll be looking at the social dimension of globalization.”

(May 2002)

What made you critical of past negotiating rounds on trade liberalization?

“If you look at the number of developing countries which have benefited from past rounds, they’ve been very limited — mostly a few Southeast Asian countries.”

(May 2002)

What makes the new trade round so nerve-wracking?

“We are opening up a new realm altogether. We are touching upon the raw nerves of participating countries.”

(May 2002)

In general, does the world benefit from the global economy?

“Economic globalization — epitomized by a liberal trade order — has led to the highest sustained growth rate in history.”

(July 2002)

What is your reply to anti-globalization protesters?

“Critics of globalization forget or ignore the fact that most workers are better off when they work in the tradable goods sector than when they work in purely domestic areas.”

(July 2002)

How do you view the current transatlantic trade disputes?

“I find that in steel, as in agriculture, you cannot avoid tackling structural problems — and rationalizing outdated industries.”

(April 2002)

Why are people in your own country critical of foreign business?

“People have become disenchanted with foreign direct investment because of the crisis and the takeovers made by foreign institutions in some industries.”

(February 2001)

Did China's entry into the WTO help the process of globalization?

“China's success in using more open trade policies to further economic growth is a powerful advertisement for the benefits of globalization.”

(July 2002)

What is so remarkable about China's entry?

“No country that has joined the WTO to date has surmounted the sorts of barriers that have been put in front of China during the 15-year process of accession negotiations.”

(July 2002)

How would you characterize the current state of China's economic reforms?

“China's reforms to date have largely been experimental and pragmatic — rather than systematic. They have above all been a matter of freeing groups from restrictions.”

(July 2002)

What are the prospects of Russia joining the WTO?

“The timing of entry depends on legal, taxation and other institutional adaptations by Russia itself. But I am among those who hope it will be soon, possibly next year.”

(July 2002)

And finally, are people right when they think poverty causes terrorism?

“Terrorists generally are not the poorest of the poor. The September 11 attacks were a reminder to the citizens of the rich world that they ignore the many festering problems in the rest of the world at their peril.”

(July 2002)