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In the News
Last Updated: 09/16/2003
WTO: bad news, good news

Protesters claimed success at the Cancun WTO meeting last week because the talks collapsed without progress. News agencies claimed that the talks were a failure as no agreements were made among the representatives from 146 countries attending. Success or failure depends on the assessment of just who won and who lost.

Good News, Bad News,

Success and Failure


The WTO at Cancun, September 2003


Protesters claimed success at the Cancun WTO meeting last week because the talks collapsed without progress. News agencies claimed that the talks were a failure as no agreements were made among the representatives 146 countries attending. Success or failure depends on the assessment of just who won and who lost.


What were the outcomes?


                            BAD                                     GOOD

Poor countries have had their access to rich markets delayed for many years.

The world economy would have been $520 billion richer by 2015 with sound agreements (World Bank)

144 million people from poorer countries would have benefited (World Bank)

Failure to reach agreement harms everyone, rich and poor (Pascal Lamy, EU Commissioner)

Richer countries could have had cheaper food

Bi-lateral deals will increase, probably to the main benefit of richer countries of EU and USA.

Agreement among 21 developing countries is simply another tier in the Rich-middling rich-poor alignment.

Many poorer countries may lose out for years to come (Dennis Kabaara, Nairobi)

EU, USA and Japan will maintain subsidies for many years to come. ($300 billion of subsidy judged a scandal.


Some poorer countries have strengthened their bargaining power.

African and Asian countries learning to form alliances (21 Poorer countries allied themselves against richer countries)

WTO will have to improve its structure and decision making capacity. (WTO characterized as medieval by Romano Prodi, EU President.)

Will there be agreement based on fair compromise at the ministerial meeting in Hong Kong 2004?

WTO cannot be allowed to fail because the world benefits more from world trade than it does from world recession.

Some pharmaceutical drugs will reach poorer countries in the near future, especially some AIDS/HIV drugs.

Brazil and India may achieve greater wolrd status as leaders of the 80 countries who opposed agreement in Cancun.

Transnational Corporations have become targets as much as national economies.




The main issues at stake included the following:


  • Agriculture
  • Patents and medicines. The right of developing countries to produce vital medicines needed without being dependant on the multinationals that currently have the patents is to be readdressed.
  • Completion policies -.
  • Services, - Cancun will be the site the attempts will be made to initiate a compulsory mandate that all countries open the doors for privatisation on all sectors that fall within the jurisdiction of the state, from water and electricity, to banks, health and education.
  • Investments, - The agreement on investments includes the provision that companies should be able to invest in any sector free from restrictive regulations.
  • Special and differential treatment - current WTO rules allow for special provisions for developing counties for example longer periods of time to implement agreements and measures to increase trading opportunities for developing countries.

The key reason for the formal failure of talks is the strengthened bargaining power of poorer countries against the richer countries that normally maintain a strong collective upper hand in the bargaining process. But day to day bargaining also takes place among the bureaucrats in the WTO Geneva headquarters. The way lobbying pans out there will help determine whether the main talks timetabled to conclude at DOHA in 2005 will result in the expansion of world trade, reduction of subsidies for agriculture in the rich countries and finalized agreements that will reduce poverty through fairer trade agreements. [Anyone want to start yet another NGO in Geneva?]


On the principle that it is rare for the clock to be turned back, WTO will survive and poorer countries will get something in the end from this stand-off. However, on the principle that national self interest usually wins the day, there is a danger of a second tier of countries emerging (Brazil, India, China) that will still leave the very poorest behind.


For more information see



The Director-General of WTO is  Supachai Panitchpakdi


Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi is Director-General of the World Trade Organization.
He took up his appointment on 1 September 2002 for three years.

Born in Bangkok in 1946, he attended school there at St. Gabriel's College and Triam Udom School. From 1963-1973, under scholarship from the Bank of Thailand, Dr. Supachai received his Master's Degree in Econometrics, Development Planning and his Ph.D. in Economic Planning and Development at the Netherlands School of Economics (now known as Erasmus University) in Rotterdam.

In 1973, Dr Supachai completed his doctoral dissertation on Human Resource Planning and Development under supervision of Professor Jan Tinbergen - the first Nobel laureate in economics. That same year, was accepted as a visiting Fellow at Cambridge University and conducted research on development models.

Dr. Supachai began his professional career at the Bank of Thailand in 1974. During his tenure there, which lasted until 1986, his expertise in economics and financial matters was widely recognized.  He was a principal figure in devising measures to bail out troubled financial institutions in the early 1980s and was instrumental in the BOT's tight control on the public sector's external borrowings as well as the passage of legislation aimed at abolishing non-formal and illegal financial institutions in the system.

In 1986, Dr. Supachai ran for Parliament and was appointed Deputy Minister of Finance.

During his first political term, he introduced the value-added tax system, laid the foundation for the establishment of the country's Export-Import Bank and improved channels for the utilization of state enterprises' funds for the government. He also helped devise strong fiscal disciplines which subsequently led to a continuing series of budget surpluses, thus enabling Thailand to achieve a high economic growth rate for many years.

After dissolution of Parliament in 1988, Dr. Supachai was appointed Director and Advisor, and subsequently President, of the Thai Military Bank. As bank president, he vigorously promoted its overseas expansion. His involvement in the business sector deepened through his chairmanship of several corporations. At the same time, he maintained his contacts in academic circles through contributions to a number of universities.

Returning to politics in 1992, Dr. Supachai became Deputy Prime Minister entrusted with oversight of the country's economic and trade policy making. He supervised key economic offices, including the Budget Bureau, the National Economic and Social Development Board, the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Industry, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. In the process, he set policy directives on macro-economic management for the country. He held the position of Deputy Prime Minister until 1995.

As Deputy Prime Minister, he was actively involved in international trade policy. A staunch supporter of free and fair trade, Dr. Supachai played a pivotal role in the international arena, principally in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). He also promoted efforts to liberalise trade in the region through what has become the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA).

His active participation in ASEAN regional activities helped forge closer relationships between member countries and enhanced their position as a unified economic grouping with a strong voice in international negotiations.

As chairman of Thailand's International Economic Policy Committee, Dr. Supachai was highly influential in charting the country's international trade and economic policies.

In 1993, he convinced the public and the private sectors on the need for Thailand to accept the Uruguay Round package and consequently helped steer its ratification through Parliament. Dr. Supachai represented Thailand at the signing ceremony of the Uruguay Round Agreement in Marrakesh and he has ensured his government's full and faithful implementation of its obligations under the World Trade Organization (WTO).

On the wider regional and inter-regional stage, Dr. Supachai has played instrumental roles as initiator and active supporter of numerous trade and investment facilitating fora, groupings and development projects. He was also instrumental in the conceptualization of the New Zealand government private sector-sponsored Asia 2000 Foundation, of which he is Honorary Advisor. Dr. Supachai has made significant contributions to the Emerging Asia Project of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in commemorating the Bank's 30th anniversary and he has been named to the project's Advisory Board.

Dr. Supachai was the first to push for the formation of the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) that draws together heads of governments from Asia and Europe to foster closer ties between the nations of the two continents. He first proposed the formation of ASEM at the East Asia Economic Forum in Singapore in 1992.

He has been a major driving force behind the Greater Mehong Sub-region from its inception, pushing for closer economic integration between the economies of Yunnan China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

He was also the initiator in the BIMST-EC consultative group that links countries in South and Southeast Asia, namely Bangladesh; India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. His contributions to the grouping are well recognized. He was co-founder of the ASEAN-Japan working group on Indochina and Myanmar, along with former Prime Minister Ryotaro Hashimoto of Japan.