Almost two months after Director General Renato Ruggiero’s term expired, the World Trade Organization is still without a leader. Worse, divisions within the trade body have widened during the fight — there is no better word — to select a successor. The animosities are such that both candidates should resign and the selection process begin anew. This time, however, there needs to be a high-level push to reach a consensus quickly. The G8 summit this weekend is the best place to begin to reinvigorate the process.
Both men currently contesting the post are well-qualified. Mr. Mike Moore, former prime minister of New Zealand, presided over the opening of his country’s economy. Mr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, the Thai finance minister, has ably administered Thailand’s recovery and economic reform. Of the two, Mr. Supachai has reason to feel most aggrieved: He enjoyed an early lead in the race to succeed Mr. Ruggiero, but the selection process was dragged out, allegedly to allow the United States to rally support for Mr. Moore. When the Thai candidate was ahead, a vote was “inappropriate” and “would set a bad precedent” for the WTO; now there are no such reservations.
Mr. Supachai, who is supported by many Asian and developing nations, including Japan, says there is more at stake now than just his future. He is right, but it is also more than the “principle” involved in selecting a head. The divisions within the WTO could undermine the credibility of the trading system it is supposed to oversee.
Suspicions about the motives behind opposition to Mr. Supachai raise fundamental questions about the fairness, purpose and intent of the liberal trade order. Rightly or not, Mr. Moore is thought to stand for a system adopted and overseen by the industrialized — and let’s be frank, Western — nations. The truth of that allegation is irrelevant: Perception is all that matters.
This poison must be leached from the system. The only way to do that is to start the selection process over, with new candidates. Key trading nations, and not just those from the developed world, must participate from the beginning to assuage concerns about fairness. The heads of the G8 nations should give the process a boost with a statement this weekend.
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