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World Economy Hinges on Progress in Trade Talks, warns WTO Chief - 2003-10-19

The director-general of the World Trade Organization has warned of growing trade conflicts and slower world economic growth unless global free trade talks restart. Mr. Supachai is pressing for more political commitment from business leaders attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Thailand.

World Trade Organization Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi is warning business leaders that the world economy will suffer if global trade talks do not go ahead.

Mr. Supachai was speaking on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok. The meeting of top-level business people starting Sunday and will run in tandem with the political leader's summit.

For business executives and politicians, one of the top themes of the APEC meetings has been getting WTO negotiations back on track, and what APEC can do to move the process along.

WTO talks, known as the "Doha Round," began in 2001 and ended dramatically last month at the Mexican seaside resort of Cancun, when disagreements erupted between developed and developing countries over agricultural subsidies and access to markets.

Mr. Supachai said business leaders and politicians will benefit by reviving the global talks, and that middle ground can be reached. "What we want is to translate the political will into terms of action. I call it flexibility or compromise.… We need an approach of give and take to take this round to a successful end," he said.

Mr. Supachai said resuming talks is necessary to stem the slowdown in global trade, which in turn drags down economic growth. "If we fail it will mean the kind of lackluster low economic expansion … and we might see the rate of growth in world trade coming down under the rate of growth of the world economy."

Joining Mr. Supachai in addressing high-powered business executives was China's President Hu Jintao, who says economic development requires trade and investment liberalization. He is heard here through a translator.

Mr. Ho said that "though the Doha round of WTO talks suffered some setbacks, so long as parties persist in consultation on an equal footing … while shelving differences, it will be successful in the end."

After the Cancun meeting collapsed last month, Mr. Supachai suspended all further talks but is asking trade negotiators to meet at the WTO headquarters in Geneva by December 15.