Encouraging utterances from Mr Supachai Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
September 7, 2002

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AT THIS juncture of the global economy, when poor developing countries are desperately seeking lifelines to invigorate their economies so as to share in the promised prosperity of the borderless age, the recent utterances of Mr Supachai Panitchpakdi, the new head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), must come like a healing balm on sore and wounded limbs.

Speaking earlier this week on BBC radio, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand expressed the view that the new trade round, called the Doha Development Agenda, must make progress on agriculture, which he said is the most important export from developing countries. Not only does the WTO chief want this body to focus on the needs of the poor countries, but he has also indicated that he is prepared to sit down and talk to the anti-globalisation protestors who have been targeting the WTO. He is convinced that with his background as the native of the developing world, he could balance the concerns of developing countries with the objectives of the WTO.

Mr Supachai, in the words of the BBC correspondent, “sees himself as a representative of the world trading system as a whole, pushing for more open trade to bring balanced benefits for all members to enjoy. But he is also acutely aware that the WTO’s credibility has long been undermined by the constant stream of complaints from the developing world that their interests aren’t taken seriously enough.”

According to that BBC report, Mr Supachai pointed to the Doha Development Agenda, the trade talks launched by the WTO at a ministerial meeting in the Middle East last year, and noted that there are a number of items on the agenda that would be of great benefit to developing countries. He sees as one of his missions, the task of ensuring that all those items are included in the final agreement from the negotiations, and that they don’t just remain bits of paper.

We find Mr Supachai’s optimism very heartening in an era when the mighty industrialised countries are furnishing their farmers with billions of hard currency in subsidies. This process could stymie the efforts of scores of small, agriculture-based developing nations, who, try as they must, could never minimise their unit cost of production to sell their raw materials anywhere close to those of the big, developed countries.

The Caribbean began to feel the bite of the globalisation process way back in the mid-1990s. In a cover story captioned “Yes, We Have No Bananas - Chiquita Vs. the Caribbean: Island Economies May be New Victims of Free Trade”, NEWSWEEK writer Brook Larmer traced the recent economic developments in the Caribbean nation states following the end of the Cold War, and he posited that, “The wads of economic assistance are gone and the walls of protection are falling. The Caribbean must now compete head to head against such powerhouses as Mexico in textiles and Central America in bananas. Free market economists and Clinton Administration officials say it’s about time: the Caribbean needs to learn to stand on its own.” In that April 28, 1997 publication, Larmer also noted: “According to the Caribbean Textiles and Apparel Institute, more that 150 apparel plants closed down in the Caribbean between 1995 and 1996, resulting in the loss of about 123,000 jobs mostly in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.” The article added that the World Bank had warned that the Caribbean could lose one-third of its US$12.5 billion in annual exports if the situation persisted.

At present, several Caribbean business organisations, especially those that are tourist-oriented, are either closing temporarily, or are offering their workers just a few workdays per week. The combined influences of the global economy and the tragic events of September 11, 2001 have wreaked havoc on the lives of working people. If Mr Supachai could indeed influence the mighty WTO to focus on the needs of poor countries, then there is cause for optimism in the Third World.