Supachai Faces Tough Call Over Harbinson

New Delhi, July 28: | Updated: Jul 29 2002, 05:30am hrs
Barely four weeks remain for the change of guard at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). But even before he can move in with his bags from Bangkok to Geneva, incoming D-G Supachai Panitchpakdi faces a trailer of the challenges that lie ahead. Some three dozen leading civil society groups, anchored by Focus on the Global Souths Aileen Kwa, have asked Dr Supachai to remove his chef de cabinet Stuart Harbinson from his dual role as chairman of the agriculture committee. The groups, who Mr Harbinson has threatened with legal action, want Dr Supachai to ensure the integrity of the D-Gs office. But a change of chair in the agriculture negotiations is certain to cause delays and neither Europe nor the US may allow Dr Supachai to take such a decision.

Ms Kwas grouping, as well as several dozen academics, dont trust Mr Harbinsons independence from the US and the Europeans. Thats primarily because of the way he flattened dissent in his draft Doha declaration and then sent a contentious draft under his own responsibility. These groups claim that Mr Harbinson is out of character with article VI.4 of the agreement establishing the

WTO. The provision requires the secretariat to be international in character and not seek or accept instructions from any government and any other authority. On her website Ms Kwa has posted a rather provocative chant describing how much the Americans and the Europeans bank on

Mr Harbinson: Harbinson, Harbinson, hes our man; If he cant do it, nobody can!.

On how Mr Harbinson, an envoy of Hong Kong, has a reputation for stone-walling opposition and refusing to modify his original stand on any subject, trade expert Pradeep S Mehta of CUTS Jaipur says, Harbinsons selection (to a position thats supposed to go to an internal candidate) is unprecedented. Supachai should have pressed for someone more acceptable to the developing world. But now that he finds himself in the present situation, Supachai can use it to his advantage by demonstrating his decisiveness.

Mr Mehta argues that the chef de cabinet isnt a crucial post in the WTO scheme of things. Also that Supachai knows how to steer.

Holding of dual positions is so far limited to the D-G. After much confusion, earlier this year, (outgoing) D-G Mike Moore placed himself as the chair of the crucial trade negotiations committee (TNC). Those in the Supachai camp were extremely worried if Mr Moore would try and continue to latch on to the TNC position even after he relinquishes the D-Gs office on August 31. If that happens, Dr Supachai may reconsider his decision to take up the D-Gs post, a source close to him had told FE. Subsequently, Mr Moore relented and it was clarified that the dual position was an ex-officio arrangement. The irony is that the clarification was issued by none other than Mr Harbinson.

Dr Supachai is a former deputy prime minister of Thailand. Three years back he refused to back down from his candidature against Mr Moore (a former PM of New Zealand). The sharp division among member-nations could only be avoided at the last minute and the D-Gs term of six years was split between the two rival candidates.