Candidates including Lamy, Cuttaree make pitch for top WTO job

Jan 26 | Updated: Jan 27 2005, 05:30am hrs
Each of the four candidates to succeed Supachai Panitchpakdi as head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will try today to convince the Geneva-based bodys ambassadors that hes the best man for the job.

The choice of director-general proved so contentious in 1999, the last time the WTO sought a new chief, its governments failed to agree on a single candidate and instead split the six-year appointment between New Zealands Mike Moore and Supachai, a Thai national who steps down August 31.

The director-general has little formal authority and relies on character to persuade and cajole governments in talks to cut border tariffs and quotas, opening markets to goods and services, smooth disputes and uphold the rules of the 10-year-old organization. Whoever holds the post is answerable to the WTOs 148 member governments.Its time a well-respected person from a major participant served after the interregnum of Moore and Supachai, said Alan Wolff, partner at Dewey Ballantine LLP in Washington and former deputy U.S. trade representative in the Carter administration.

The four candidates Pascal Lamy, Carlos Perez del Castillo, Felipe de Seixas Correa and Jaya Cuttaree will each make presentations to the WTOs governing general council today. Lamy, 57, who until November was the European Unions trade commissioner, is the most senior of the four. Perez del Castillo, 60, was Uruguays ambassador to the WTO and Seixas Correa, 59, is Brazils WTO ambassador. Cuttaree, 63, the foreign affairs minister of Mauritius, claims the backing of 56 WTO members that belong to the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of nations.

The fight for leadership may split industrialized nations, Latin America and Africa for the post, which must be decided by consensus before June.

It will come down to the candidate for whom theres the least objection, said Alan Oxley, former Australian ambassador to the WTOs predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and a consultant on trade, development and the environment in Australia.

The U.S. and EU enjoy a sort of veto; its unimaginable that a candidate didnt have their backing. Former WTO chiefs include Peter Sutherland, who is now a chairman of BP Plc and Goldman Sachs International, and Renato Ruggiero, a chairman of Citigroup Inc. who also served as Italian foreign minister until January 2002.

With a budget of more than 150 million Swiss francs ($127 million) and about 550 staff, the WTOs director-general is responsible for overseeing the only global rules governing trade between nations.

In the region, I am by far the candidate that counts the greatest support, Perez del Castillo said by telephone from his office in Montevideo last month. I am aware that the perception is it will split the vote, but in reality thats not the case. Everyone has learned their lesson from the past. Candidates with less support will withdraw.

The candidates with no more than ambassador-level experience may lack the authority needed to stand up for the organization, which is often criticized by governments when its arbitrators find against national trade laws.

The Europeans and the U.S. have been so on the same page about the WTO DG nomination, said Spencer Griffith, partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington. It would be logical that it swings back from a developing country.