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New WTO Director Seeks to Ease Globilization Fears - 2002-09-02

The new director of the Geneva-based World Trade Organization says he hopes to ease fears about globalization by opening up discussion on trade to a wider audience. The WTO chief takes up his first trade talk this week in Johannesburg, where he is set to address the U.N. forum on the role of trade in sustainable development.

Thai economist Supachai Panitchpakdi says he does not envision a restructuring of the global trade body, but he does want to make it more effective.

Mr. Panitchpakdi, better known as Dr. Supachai, says the WTO has been criticized for its secrecy. He says he wants to encourage more cooperation with international organizations and greater exchange of views with lawmakers, independent groups and business people. He says the WTO can help poor countries enjoy the benefits of global commerce.

"I am convinced that under this organization we have the right kind of mandate to help establish the kind of sustainable development we have been talking about," he said. "Of course, we do not have the full solution, the full kit to achieve that single-handedly. I emphasize that we need to work together with the rest of the world and I am willing to listen to what the rest of the world is expecting us to do."

Dr. Supachai is the first WTO chief from a developing country. He says he would like to see a WTO representative office set up in Africa to help support trade in the world's poorest continent.

He also says he wants to see disputes between WTO members defused before they turn into trade wars. "I am quite confident that countries, which have been, are or will be, involved in any form of conflict will certainly do their best to try to find the most amicable manner to reconcile their differences," he said.

Last Friday, the WTO allowed the European Union to slap a record $4 billion in sanctions on the United States over export tax breaks. The European Union has also filed formal complaints with the WTO over an increase in U.S. tariffs on steel imports.

Dr. Supachai says he would like to see disputes resolved by mutual agreement and not litigation.