The unmistakable smell of stale cigar smoke wafts from the far end of the director general's corridor at the World Trade Organisation in Geneva. Tobacco is the only known vice of Pascal Lamy, the cerebral, marathon-running, head of the WTO and, since his arrival in the job in September, no one has dared tell him this is a no-smoking zone.
One indulgence could be forgiven at a taxing time for European supporters of free global commerce. Ministers from around the world were so far apart last week on plans to liberalise trade that they abandoned hope of striking an agreement at a summit in Hong Kong next month. Though only a tactical retreat, it underlined the risk that the Doha round will collapse.
Meanwhile, the social consequences of globalisation were to be seen in France, where rioters in the suburbs have torched hundreds of cars a night. France is one of the fiercest opponents of liberal economics in the EU and the most determined to prevent further erosion of farm subsidies. So it is more than a little ironic that a French socialist such as M. Lamy should have responsibility for freeing global trade.
In his spacious but Spartan office overlooking Lake Geneva, M. Lamy is serious and businesslike. Asked about the link between globalisation and the unrest in the suburbs of France, he avoids mentioning any country, though the message is clear: France cannot roll back the tide of global forces; what it can do is manage their consequences.
'All countries have to cope with globalisation,' he says. Freeing world trade 'has good sides and bad sides. It is a question of how you cope with that. We in the WTO firmly believe that trade opening is good. It creates more winners than losers, but we have to acknowledge that the reshuffling it creates in the social fabric has to be coped with.'
A graduate of France's Ecole Nationale d'Administration, M. Lamy speaks precisely in deep, sometimes gruff, tones. Born in 1947, he made his name for ruthless efficiency as the head of the private office of Jacques Delors, the former European Commission president. He hates small talk and one ally describes his favoured form of relaxation as reading 'unintelligible French philosophical tracts'.
M. Lamy's reputation for intelligence, mastery of detail and determination grew when he returned to Brussels as EU trade commissioner in 1999. By backing reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and global trade, he clashed with the government in Paris and was barely on speaking terms with President Chirac.
The reason for the riots across France, he says, 'like all these surges of discontent, is a mix. It is clearly a signal that the integration policy vis--vis the second or third generation of immigrants has problems.
'It is a bit more dramatic for the French, who have advertised more strongly their assimilation integration policy. But countries that have chosen another model of integration also have problems. Societies and cultures have to cope with immigration.'
As the director general of an international institution, M. Lamy is trying hard not to criticise France, though one can read between the lines, particularly when economic policy is raised.
'I see within the developed world countries that are good at coping with [globalisation] and countries that are less good,' he says, and, across the globe, the need is 'to help the weakest and the poorest'. He supports the idea of an EU fund to deal with the social consequences of globalisation, arguing that the US has similar policies.
France's resistance to opening markets is a result of 'gut reaction' and tradition, he says. 'Look at what happened in the 19th century when we had steam engines crossing the Atlantic. Because of technological innovation, the price of grain dropped suddenly. There was a debate in the UK whether this should be accepted or …