Brazil, Mexico top WTO leadership race: trade source

The World Trade Organisation is set to have its first full-term leader from an emerging country, after the candidates of Brazil and Mexico made the final round to succeed Frenchman Pascal Lamy, a source told AFP Thursday.

The diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Brazil's WTO ambassador Roberto Azevedo and Mexico's Herminio Blanco, a former senior trade negotiator, had cleared the remaining hurdle for a head-to-head contest.

Another source with knowledge of the talks confirmed the news.

"Blanco and Azevedo have moved to the final round of the process to select a new WTO director," the source said.

Both were tightlipped because the WTO's 159 member states were not due to hold a full gathering on the issue until Friday.

Azevedo is seen as a broad favourite in diplomatic circles, while insiders said that Blanco had strong backing from rich economies in the WTO.

The WTO has been led by a developing country before, but never for a full term -- an ugly battle in the 1999 race led to Thailand and New Zealand splitting the post, in the wake of Irish and Italian chiefs.

But with only Brazil and Mexico left in the running this time, developing nations are assured of full control of the helm.

The WTO's members set the rules of global commerce, and the Geneva-based organisation polices respect for the 159 nations' commitments.

An unprecedented nine candidates entered the race to replace Lamy -- a former European Union trade chief who has served two four-year terms at the helm of the WTO -- with developing nations making up the majority of those aiming to stake their claim on the job which is vacant on September 1.

The WTO's leader, tasked with trying to keep stalling global trade talks alive, is not formally elected.

But 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.

A trio of senior WTO member-state diplomats -- steered by Pakistan's ambassador, Shahid Bashir, who runs its governing General Council -- have spent recent weeks sounding out their fellow delegates to assess which candidates were likely to muster the most support, with those found wanting then pulling out.

Those who fell at the first hurdle earlier this month were from Kenya, Ghana, Jordan and Costa Rica. At the time, Kenya slammed the selection process as flawed.

In this week's polling, the candidates deemed least likely to win support were from Indonesia, South Korea and New Zealand.

The field is expected to be narrowed to two names and the process 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 European Union, 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.