WTO leadership race to wrap up by May 7

The race to lead the World Trade Organisation, pitting Mexico against Brazil, should be wrapped up by May 7, the senior diplomat leading the process said Friday.

Pakistan's ambassador Shahid Bashir, who runs the WTO's governing General Council, told a meeting of its 159 member states that he would launch a final round of talks next week.

"These consultations will begin on Wednesday afternoon, 1 May, and continue through midday, Tuesday 7 May," Bashir said in an address to fellow ambassadors.

Mexico's candidate is Herminio Blanco, a former senior trade negotiator, and Brazil's is the country's WTO ambassador Roberto Azevedo.

Officials said that a session of the general council was then likely to be held on May 8, allowing the name of the winner to be announced sooner than expected originally.

Bashir had previously said that he expected to have the name of the successor to the WTO's current leader, Frenchman Pascal Lamy, by May 31.

Lamy's second four-year term at the helm ends on September 1.

The post of leader of the WTO, tasked with reviving stalled global trade talks, is not formally elected.

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.

Bashir, with the support of other senior diplomats, has spent recent weeks sounding out members to assess which candidates were likely to muster the most support.

Those who fell at the first hurdle earlier this month were from Kenya, Ghana, Jordan and Costa Rica, while Indonesia, South Korea and New Zealand stumbled to make it to the final selection this week.

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.

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

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.