Notes of Radio New Zealand (Kim Hill Show) interview with Thailand's Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi - contender for the Director Generalship of the World Trade Organisation. (The following notes are not literal quotes of either the questions or the answers during this mornings interview but rather a close approximation of what was said. )
Kim Hill: Why has Thailand and countries vetoed Mike Moore's bid for the Director Generalship of the WTO?
Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi:You have to go back into the history a little bit. It could have been decided in December. April should not have been the month that we decided on a new DG. I was in the lead until April. We haven't vetoed Mr Moore. But we have objections against the procedures which are not democratic.
If in the normal process of election of a candidate one candidate is in the lead for five months who should you build the consensus around? Do we have to wait for the one in fourth position to come into second before we decide to build a consensus.
It can be said to be going on forever. In April Mike was leading by 52 to 59. One country came in late April saying he had to switch because of the pressure on his capital.
KH:Has the US been bullying nations into supporting Mike Moore
SP:I have not said that. And people I know have not been saying that. What we say is that if major countries could remain neutral then things may have been easier for the chairman [of the WTO] to handle.
KH: Why should the US be neutral?
SP: It can show its preference. But when the weight is being used to promote the case of another. In my case only Thailand has been campaigning on my behalf.
It might be simpler and easier for the chairman if countries that have tremendous power would take up a neutral stance.
KH: Why is it so acrimonious this time?
SP: It is not different than last time. Four years ago there was the same thing. The debate raged for a year. It was just as acrimonious. Then one candidate had to pull out for domestic reasons.
KH: Some say it has turned into an Asia vs US debate in some quarters?
KH: What divides you?
SP: I think it is probably the labour issue that divides us. I have not said anything against the consideration of labour issues. But I do stand by the position that primarily these are matters for the ILO. Mr Moore on the other hand, being a Labour minister, has to attend to labour issues. There is no other issue that divides us. I have never talked about the speed of trade liberalisation. All I have said is that the less developed nations should be assisted more to develop. That the more advanced countries will have to put up more assistance. All four of the candidates realise that trade liberalisation is for the whole world.
KH: What will be the difference between yourself and Mr Moore?
SP: I think the labour issue is a dividing line. I have heard that said often in capitals.
KH: What would you do different?
SP: I would say let the ILO handle the whole thing. Some countries have been saying that if some countries do not treat their labour force correctly then they are competitive without paying the price for it. We have our own labour laws. It is up to the ILO to determine what labour laws. Many countries fear that labour is going to be used as a non-tariff barrier.
KH: How do you feel about the US position at the moment - who is threatening NZ Lamb?
SP: This is another issue. The fact is that the number of trade disputes may be growing because of the opening up of trade. So we should strengthen the WTO to deal with these issues. The Directorate of the WTO should be embraced, and its rules honored. These issues can lead to more conflict and we need to strengthen the WTO.
KH: Is it possible that free trade has now hit the wall of protectionism?
SP: Trade is growing at double the rate of world economic growth. When we handle trade issues we need to be circumspect and bring in all sectors of the population. All sectors of society should discuss these issues. Trade should lead to more employment. But look at Africa where there are countries with 40% unemployed. You cannot be surprised that some nations are becoming disillusioned.
KH: And Mike Moore has a different view?
SP: I think we are both equally sensitive to these issues. The question is who can be most effective in getting everyone involved in trade liberalisation.
KH: Is it true that you and your officials are concerned about Mike Moore attending this weeks meetings in Auckland?
SP: I haven't said that. Mike is free to do whatever he likes. Except that during official meetings I do not know what capacity he will be there.
KH: What is going to happen now?
SP: I think there are still a few avenues to be explored. Concessions are being made on both sides and I think we should be looking at those. We should not be standing only on the proposal of the chairman in April.
KH: What do you want?
SP: It is not what I want.
KH: You criticise the process, what should be done now?
SP: The Australians have suggested we start with a circuit breaker. Lasting a month or two. Some countries suggest voting. Or we have a compromise solution.