WTO race a turning point for Latin America

With the race to lead the World Trade Organization now down to representatives of Brazil and Mexico, the fact that either way a Latin American will win is a turning point for the region, the Mexican hopeful said Friday.

Herminio Blanco, a former senior trade negotiator, said Latin America sees the WTO as key to helping developing countries gain access to the markets of wealthy developed ones.

Blanco faces Roberto Azevedo, Brazil's ambassador to the 159-member WTO, in the third and final round of the selection process.

The WTO leader is tasked with reviving stalled global trade talks. The winner is expected to be announced by May 31.

For the first time the WTO boss will be Latin American and that says a lot about the region, Blanco said.

"This election is a symbol of the change that has taken place in Latin America," he told AFP, describing it as, until now, closed and anchored in the past.

"Now it has a lot of interest in the future," said Blanco, 62, who served as Mexico's trade minister from 1994 to 2000.

He said Latin America is keen on the WTO, which in the future should be a key element for opening up access to the markets of developed countries, especially for emerging nations.

Blanco expressed pride at beating out what he called very qualified candidates from New Zealand, Indonesia and South Korea, and said this spoke highly of Latin America.

He called Azevedo an experienced diplomat who knew world trade and the WTO very well.

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.

Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade praised Blanco as "the best option" to lead the WTO.