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Nine candidates vie for WTO top job

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By SAPA

Sapa-AFP Geneva

CANDIDATES from nine mainly developing nations face off this week for the job of reviving stalled global trade talks as the new head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Six men and three women, many of them government ministers, have thrown their hats into the ring to replace Frenchman Pascal Lamy as the director-general of the WTO.

“It is very good for the organisation to have so many candidates with so much experience and knowledge of the WTO system,” agency spokesman Keith Rockwell said on Monday.

The candidates, the largest number to vie for the top post since the WTO was created in 1995, face the organisation’s general council this week as the selection process starts.

The director-general’s main mission is to help advance global trade talks that aim to spur growth by opening up markets and removing trade barriers, including subsidies, excessive taxes and regulations.

The replacement for Lamy, who finishes his second four-year term in August, will be charged with trying to revive the Doha Round of trade talks.

The round was launched in 2001 but has encountered obstacles set in particular by China, the EU, India and the US.

Instead the momentum has moved to regional and bilateral trade deals.

As Lamy’s second term draws to a close, developing countries say it is time that one of their own gets another chance to lead the WTO.

“There is no advance voting in the regional groups , but the principle that the next director-general should be from a developing country enjoys broad support,” Rockwell said.

According to diplomatic sources, picking a WTO chief could be complicated by the fact that another top global governance job is opening up this year: to head the UN’s trade and development body, Unctad.

Unctad head Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand, who is preparing to retire, was Lamy’s predecessor at the WTO. Since the WTO recently had an Asian chief, diplomatic sources suggest that the top post this time could go to Africa.

That could favour the first candidate who was due to face the WTO’s general council yesterday: Ghana’s former trade minister Alan Kyerematen, who is serving as a trade advisor at the UN Economic Commission for Africa. He is one of two African candidates.

The next candidate up to bat will be Costa Rica’s Foreign Trade Minister Anabel Gonzales: one of three candidates from Latin America, another heavily tipped region.

She will be followed by Indonesian Tourism Minister Mari Elka Pangestu.

Today, four candidates will face the music, starting with the only one from a developed economy: New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser.

Next will be high-level UN executive Amina Mohamed of Kenya, Jordanian former trade minister Ahmad Thougan Hindawi and finally Herminio Blanco Mendoza of Mexico.

Mendoza is an economist and former minister who led Mexico’s negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement, as well as its participation in the Uruguay round of talks that preceded the WTO’s creation in 1995.

Finally, South Korean Trade Minister Bark Tae-ho and Brazilian diplomat and envoy to the WTO Roberto Azevedo will go through the tough interview process tomorrow.

The body said on Monday that each candidate would be given 15 minutes to present their vision for the WTO, before being questioned for an hour and 15 minutes. The decision must be made by May 31, and the nominee will pick up the WTO reins on September 1.

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