World Trade Organization Squabbling over Leadership

Article excerpt

GENEVA -- The World Trade Organization was deadlocked yesterday as it made a desperate push to agree on a new director-general and avert a leadership vacuum at a crucial time for the global economy.

At a bad-tempered meeting of the WTO's decision-making general council, supporters of former New Zealand Premier Mike Moore clashed with backers of Thai Deputy Prime Minister Supachai Panitchpakdi.

"The atmosphere is testy, tense and not terribly pleasant," said WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell. "It is very clear that we don't have consensus."

The crisis began Friday when Ali Mchumo, the WTO council chairman, proposed to delegates that Moore -- who is backed by the United States -- be approved by consensus because he had the support of 62 nations, three more than Supachai.

However, Japan, Malaysia, India and other Asian nations demanded a vote -- a move that would run against the WTO's time-honored practice of reaching decisions by consensus.

Moore supporters fiercely resisted the vote proposal, and the positions were even more entrenched yesterday.

"There are different opinions, but this organization is built on consensus," said U.S. Ambassador Rita Hayes.

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.

The deadlock made it increasingly likely that the WTO would have to function without a leader. On Friday, Italy's Renato Ruggiero left as head of the 134-member organization after a four-year term. …