New WTO chief to be a Latin American

Geneva, Apr 25 (EFE).- The contest to succeed France's Pascal Lamy as head of the World Trade Organization has come down to a choice between the candidates from Brazil and Mexico, diplomats said here Thursday.

Brazil's Roberto Azevedo and Herminio Blanco of Mexico emerged as favorites early in the selection process, surviving the first cut along with hopefuls from New Zealand, South Korea and Indonesia.

Career diplomat Azevedo has represented Brazil at the WTO since 2008 and is thoroughly acquainted with the workings of the Geneva-based body.

Blanco, a former Cabinet secretary who was Mexico's lead negotiator in the talks that led to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, is currently in the private sector.

Azevedo and Blanco are both viewed positively by the developed nations, who continue to play a preponderant role in the WTO, even though the 159-nation group officially operates on the basis of majority rule.

Mexican diplomats said their government thinks Blanco is well-placed to prevail over Azevedo.

Blanco is expected to receive the backing of the United States, the European Union and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, which includes Mexico as a member, those diplomats said.

Latin American governments remain divided in their support, the Mexicans said.

A final decision on the next WTO director-general is due by May 31 to allow enough time for an orderly transition prior to Lamy's departure, set for the end of August.