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WTO Paralyzed by Leadership Crisis

May 4, 1999

GENEVA (AP) _ The World Trade Organization remained without a leader Monday after a crisis session of the body’s decision-making council was postponed without explanation.

Ali Mchumo, WTO council chairman, had called the meeting in an attempt to find agreement on a new director-general and avert a leadership vacuum at a crucial time for the global economy.

Mchumo on Friday had proposed former New Zealand Premier Mike Moore, provoking opposition from supporters of Thai Deputy Prime Minister Supachai Panitchpakdi. Moore had support from 62 countries, compared to Supachai’s 59.

But prospects looked bleak for Moore, a 50-year-old former trade unionist who held a series of ministerial jobs and was briefly prime minister in 1990.

Japan and other Asian countries seemed set to stand firm behind Supachai, who led the race for much of the campaign and was viewed as the candidate of developing countries.

Asian countries and their allies are particularly angry that the Thai candidate held a clear lead for months while the United States and Europe sat on the fence. Only when Washington opted in favor of Moore did the New Zealander gain ground.

Thai politicians have called for a downgrade in relations with the United States because of its refusal to support Supachai, local papers reported Tuesday.

Japanese ambassador Nobotushi Akao said no consensus could be formed around Moore. ``It’s time for you to put Mr. Supachai to the test to see whether there is consensus or not around him,″ Akao said in a message to the WTO council chairman.

Uruguay’s ambassador, Carlos Perez del Castillo, countered: ``It should be clear that if Mr. Moore was vetoed, there would be no way in which Dr. Supachai could become the new director-general.″

``The obvious way out would be for Dr. Supachai to bow out with dignity,″ he told a news conference Sunday, supported by delegates from the United States, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, France, Turkey, Sweden and Bulgaria.

Italy’s Renato Ruggiero stepped down as scheduled Friday after a four-year term in office, as did the WTO’s deputy directors.

``The work of the organization is absolutely paralyzed at the moment,″ said Perez del Castillo.

In addition to the practical running of the WTO, the organization needs a leader with global clout as it prepares for a November conference meant to set the trade agenda for the 21st century and usher in agreements to liberalize global commerce.

``We are nearing a crisis,″ said U.S. Ambassador Rita Hayes. ``It is important we put this behind us and appoint a new director-general as soon as possible.″

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