Shadow of Wolfowitz Hangs over WTO amid


By Patrick Baert

Agence France-Presse
April 4, 2005

Former US defence official Paul Wolfowitz's appointment to head the World Bank has added a fresh twist to the election of the new director general of the World Trade Organisation, diplomats said Monday. Developing countries have raised concerns about the United States and European Union tacitly sharing out the top posts at the major international financial institutions, including the WTO.

The concerns were raised as the leadership race at the Geneva-based trade body, which involves a European and three developing country candidates, shifted up a gear Monday. Kenyan ambassador Amina Mohamed, who is overseeing the selection process, began one-on-one meetings with representatives of each of the 148 member states to try to determine which candidates have a chance of commanding a consensus in the trade body. The procedure will effectively whittle down the short list that now comprises Brazilian trade ambassador Luiz Felipe Seixas Correa, Carlos Perez del Castillo of Uruguay, the foreign minister of Mauritius, Jayen Cuttaree, and former EU trade commissioner Pascal Lamy. A final choice to replace outgoing Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand is expected by May.

Media reports have suggested that the appointment of Wolfowitz, who is widely regarded as a hardline conservative in international affairs, was backed by the Europeans in exchange for US support for Lamy at the WTO. "I hope there is no truth in this story of an understanding: if everything is shared between a few players, it means there is no space for other people," an ambassador for an Asian country at the WTO commented. "This is an unequal world we live in," he told AFP.

Since 1944, the US favourite had traditionally been granted the World Bank job while west Europeans have been first choice at the IMF. Developing countries, which have grown in political strength at the WTO in recent years, are now more anxious than ever to ensure that the global trade body does not go the same way. "The World Bank is in the hands of the Americans, the IMF in those of the Europeans, they're virtual properties," Cuttaree said in January.

The last leadership race at the WTO in 1999 was marked by bitter divisions among the WTO members states, including a partial north-south split. This time the WTO is just emerging from a damaging rift between rich and poor countries that blocked key global trade talks for months. Many trade officials are hoping to complete those talks, which are aimed primarily at expanding free trade in a manner that benefits developing countries, in 2006. "This is a developing round and someone from a developing country should continue to be at the helm of the WTO," said Perez del Castillo. The Uruguayan pointed out that in its previous guise as the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), the top international trade post always went to a European.

Diplomats are waiting to see who will pull out of the race first. Many trading nations - including the United States and India -- have not yet indicated which candidate they support. "My sense is that Lamy and Perez del Castillo are the strongest at the moment, but when the other two pull out, it is hard to know how the support will shift," said an envoy from a non-EU European country.

Lamy formally has the backing of the 25 EU member states, which traditionally tries to perform in unison at the WTO. Perez del Castillo, a former Uruguayan diplomat, has support from some Latin American countries -- with the notable exception of Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela -- and major farm exporters like Australia and New Zealand. Cuttaree has official support from the 56 countries in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping, but Paris has pressed francophone African countries to swing behind Lamy, according to a European diplomat. Seixas Correa has received the support of China, a fellow heavyweight in the G20 group of developing countries that opposes farm subisdies.

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