Mexico confident as WTO leadership race wraps up

The team behind Mexican Herminio Blanco expressed confidence Monday that he would take the helm of the WTO thanks to his track record in trade diplomacy and business, plus support among rich and poor nations alike, and despite reports that Brazilian rival Roberto Azevedo was the frontrunner.

"We're not crying victory, but we're very, very confident," a senior Mexican diplomatic source as the Geneva-based World Trade Organization prepared to wrap up the contest pitting Blanco against Brazil's Roberto Azevedo.

"It wouldn't be responsible today to talk about the number of votes," the source added.

Frenchman Pascal Lamy, a former European Union trade chief, bows out on September 1 after two four-year terms as director general of the WTO.

The name of his successor is expected to be revealed Wednesday, or possibly on Tuesday, and the race is being watched closely because the WTO's chief faces the tough task of reviving long-stalled global trade liberalisation talks.

With little to separate the candidates in terms of vision for breaking the deadlock in the 159-member WTO's "Doha Round" negotiations, the diplomatic guessing game is mounting.

The Doha Round, launched at a summit in Qatar in 2001, aims to open markets and remove trade barriers such as subsidies, excessive taxes and regulations, in order to harness international commerce to develop poorer economies.

But the concessions needed have sparked clashes notably between China, the EU, India and the United States, and Lamy's replacement will need to build bridges.

"We've got support from all countries, whether least-developed, developing or developed, and from all regions," the Mexican source said.

Blanco, a 62-year-old economist, has a heavyweight reputation.

He was Mexico's negotiator for the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, served as a minister of commerce and also boasts solid private sector credentials.

"He's someone who generates a vast consensus among member countries, and inspires confidence in the business world," the source said.

But 55-year-old Azevedo could benefit from his insider status.

He has been Brazil's WTO ambassador since 2008, after working as a chief litigator in high-profile trade disputes, making him well placed to navigate the system to try to clear the Doha logjam.

Like Mexico, Brazil repeatedly has flagged up its candidate's broad support across nations and economic levels.

According to the Brazilian newspaper Estado, the government's diplomatic soundings put Azevedo's support at some 106 of the 159 WTO nations.

EU member states were reportedly split, with Portugal, Spain, Italy and France pro-Azevedo, and Britain backing Blanco.

But the Mexican source claimed that Blanco had "99 percent" support in the EU -- whose collective punch of 28 nations, including incomer Croatia, makes it a powerful WTO player.

EU members were expected to set out their position Tuesday at the WTO.

"I cannot comment on this process until completed," said EU trade chief Karel de Gucht's spokesman.

An unprecedented nine names entered the race to succeed Lamy.

Since it was created in its current form in 1995, the WTO's chiefs have been Irish, Italian, New Zealander and Thai, and with Frenchman Lamy in charge since 2005, emerging economies are keen to claim the slot.

The WTO does not hold leadership elections, but instead picks its chief by consensus, after senior diplomats identify who musters the most support.

Those who stumbled in the first round in mid-April were from Kenya, Ghana, Jordan and Costa Rica, while Indonesia, South Korea and New Zealand exited the race in the second round at the end of the month.