Africans, Jordan, Costa Rica stumble in WTO race

There was anger Friday at the World Trade Organisation as two African candidates fell out of the race to lead the global body, along with challengers from Costa Rica and Jordan, but developing nations insisted they would still take the helm.

"The selection process was flawed and the procedures were violated, and we cannot join the consensus," Kenya's WTO ambassador Anthony Andanje told AFP, after top diplomats steering the process cut his country's candidate Amina Mohamed from the list, along with those from Ghana, Costa Rica and Jordan.

The post of WTO director general is high profile because its holder is tasked with reviving long-stalled talks on boosting global commerce and economic development in the organisation's 159 member states.

An unprecedented nine candidates entered the race to replace Frenchman Pascal Lamy -- a former European Union trade chief who has served two four-year terms at the helm of the WTO -- and emerging nations aim to stake their claim on the job which is vacant on September 1.

With four axed from the race, Brazil's WTO ambassador Roberto Azevedo is seen as a favourite in diplomatic circles.

"We are confident," Brazilian trade official Jose Estanislau Do Amaral told AFP.

"There is a widespread perception that it is the developing countries' time," he added.

Another key name is Indonesia's former trade minister Mari Pangestu, whose country is due to host the WTO's next summit at the end of this year -- one of three women in the race, a first for the organisation.

The remaining challengers are Mexico's Herminio Blanco Mendoza, South Korean Taeho Bark and Tim Groser of New Zealand.

Unlike similar organisations such as the various arms of the United Nations, whose chiefs are nominated, the WTO picks its leader based on a consensus system.

"It's not an election, it's a selection. That's the subtle difference," WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters.

Under WTO rules aimed at avoiding a repeat of the gruelling race of 1999 which poisoned relations among members of the WTO, the head of its ruling general council, Pakistan's ambassador Shahid Bashir, has spent weeks gauging countries' views on who is likely to muster the most support.

Amid reports of horsetrading between different country blocs, Andanje said that Kenya was deeply unhappy with how the race was being run.

In theory any member can block the process, but diplomats said Kenya's vocal objections will have a limited impact, outweighed by mainstream opinion.

"The results were clear and unambiguous, whether measures in terms of number of preferences received, or breadth of support across geographic regions," Bashir told a WTO meeting on the selection process Friday.

The field is expected to be narrowed to two names, with the process expected to be wrapped up by the end of May.

Created in 1995, the WTO aims to advance global trade negotiations in a drive to spur growth by opening markets and removing trade barriers, including subsidies, excessive taxes and regulations.

Its so-called Doha Round of talks was launched in 2001, with the stated goal of harnessing global commerce to develop poorer economies, but has faltered in the face of obstacles set in particular by China, the EU, India and the United States.

The momentum has moved to regional and bilateral deals, such as a planned trans-Atlantic trade pact between the US and EU.

Supporters of a WTO-wide deal warn that regional and bilateral accords create a "spaghetti bowl" of sometimes conflicting trade rules and thereby fail to serve global commerce.