The new director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), economist Supachai Panitchpakdi, outlined a long-term assistance plan for developing countries and a project for opening of a branch office in Africa on his first day on the job Monday.
Supachai begins his three-year term at the helm of the WTO, headquartered in Geneva, and which oversees the treaties involving the multilateral trade system and promotes the liberalisation of world markets.
The new director-general, who is a former trade minister of Thailand, presented his plans for maintaining the technical assistance programmes that the WTO offers developing nations during the negotiations under way in what is known as the Doha Round.
But Supachai, the first leader of the WTO to come from a developing nation since the institution's creation in 1995, explained in his first press conference that this aid must be extended even after the conclusion of the Doha Round talks, which are slated to end in late 2004.
By continuing the trade-related development programmes, he said, ''countries that are still lagging behind could be helped to narrow the gap and catch up.''
Many developing countries and civil society organisations blame the WTO treaties a great portion of the inequalities existing in world trade relations.
Supachai said he is confident that the materialisation of the objectives of the Doha Development Agenda will lead to the elimination of the deficit suffered by the nations of the South.
The creation of a permanent WTO office in Africa is one of the ideas the new director-general is pursuing in his efforts aimed at benefiting developing countries.
Assistance ''on the ground'' might be more productive, in Supachai's opinion, than the training courses being taught in Geneva with the aim of strengthening the participation of developing countries in WTO decision-making processes.
The official will discuss the initiative this week in South Africa, where he will attend the closing ceremonies Wednesday of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and in a subsequent visit to Kenya.
The Thai representative says he hopes that the WTO will provide its 144 member states with greater opportunities ''to trade more openly and more intensively with one another,'' and with fewer impediments for all forms of exchange.
The WTO, an entity outside the United Nations system, has traditionally shown little willingness to collaborate with other multilateral public institutions.
But Supachai notes that opportunities often present themselves to work closely with other such organisations.
By working with others, ''we can harness the process of globalisation that can generate benefits for all concerns,'' said Supachai, adding that it should incorporate those who have been excluded and improve quality of life worldwide.
The WTO ''needs to be working in tandem with other responsible organisations'' like the World Bank, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), International Monetary Fund, UN Development Programme, International Labour Organization and World Health Organisation, among others, he said.
This collaboration should not occur only ''from time to time'', but rather the WTO must always be in touch with these other organisations, said the new director-general.
Supachai announced that he would entrust specific areas of responsibility to the four WTO deputy director-generals, who are to take their posts Oct 1. They are Roderick Abbot, of Great Britain, Kipkorir Aly Asad Rana, of Kenya, Francisco Thompson-Flores, of Brazil, and Rufus H. Yerxa, of the United States.
One will be in charge of the legal area, which will cover WTO actions that help member countries to avoid trade conflict and to continue compliance with the rules of the multilateral trade system.
Supachai stressed the need to reduce the litigation proceedings in the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body, saying it has become ''too costly and too time consuming''.
He ruled out the possibility of creating a government council to run the WTO, like those at the IMF and World Bank.
But one of the deputy director-generals will be entrusted with finding ways to strengthen the organisation and to determine whether a restructuring of the system might be necessary.
Another deputy will be in charge of technical assistance to developing countries. The division of labour will be complete with the fourth deputy in control of relations with other institutions.
Supachai believes the WTO should hold regular consultative meetings with business associations, with civil society groups and with experts in order to reduce the criticisms against the organisation's alleged hermeticism.
Supachai is the successor to New Zealander Mike Moore, who served as WTO director-general since 1999. The two men split the six-year term because member nations could not reach a consensus on just one candidate.
A large group of countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America, and some European nations backed Supachai's candidacy. Moore, meanwhile, was the star candidate put forth by the United States.
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