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Mon, Oct 20, 2003 - Page 12 News List

WTO mustn't fail, warns Supachai

AFP , BANGKOK

WTO chief Supachai Panichpakdi warned yesterday that a total collapse of current global talks to free trade could force recession and a proliferation of conflicts.

Speaking to top business executives on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific leaders meeting here, Supachai said there was little option left but to ensure the successful completion of the Doha round of multilateral trade talks.

He said if the talks failed to take off eventually, trade growth was doomed to lag behind production levels which would then curtail economic expansion, which already had become "unpredictable."

"To you it may sound odd, but to me it is an alarm bell," he told the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) chief executives forum.

"Recession trends will again take place if we don't commit ourselves to a new round and try to finish it in due time," he warned.

Supachai has been given the cold shoulder at the APEC meeting in his native Thailand, excluded from talks and failing even to meet the host, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

WTO chiefs are usually invited to the meetings of foreign and trade ministers from the 21-nation APEC grouping, but this year he was left off the guest list.

"APEC has nothing to do with the WTO, it's a different framework. APEC has its own secretary-general," Thaksin told reporters recently. "We have never met with each other so I don't know how I can hold discussions with him."

Commerce Minister Adisai Bodharamik was even more blunt, saying Supachai was not invited because he was not needed at the forum, which also includes a leaders' summit next Monday.

"To me it's not quite productive if he is to be here, and people are only going to ask him why the multilateral trading negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, collapsed," he said.

Despite being excluded from the main APEC events, Supachai is lobbying hard prom the sidelines to revive world trade negotiations which broke down spectacularly in Cancun.

He will be holding meetings with the leaders of some of APEC's largest economies including US President George W. Bush but face-to-face talks with Thaksin are not on the cards, his spokesman said.

A major WTO conference in Cancun, Mexico last month aimed at pushing forward the Doha Round collapsed after bickering between developed and developing countries on market access, farming subsidies and tariff structures.

A particular problem was over cross-border investment and competition -- the so-called Singapore issues -- which added to a more fundamental dispute about richer states' farming subsidies and the tariffs imposed on agriculture imports by developing nations.

Supachai said that world trade expansion had already been "so depressed" in the past few years, and a failure of the Doha round talks to frame more effective trade rules would aggravate the fall.

"This year, 2003, we might see the rate of world trade volume coming down under the rate of growth of world economy," he warned.

"The normal trend is that world trade would expand at a faster pace than world production, meaning nations are trading more with each other and we are not contracting in our trade.

He added that the moment world trade expansion came under production levels it would mean trade was not expanding in line with production, suggesting a contraction in economic growth.

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