Former EU trade chief Pascal Lamy of France looked set to become the new leader of the World Trade Organization after a selection team decided Friday to recommend him for the post.
Pascal Lamy's already used to sitting in front of the WTO logo
Ambassador Amina Mohamed of Kenya, who led the selection process as head of the WTO's executive General Council, told the 148 members that Lamy was "the candidate most likely of the two to attract consensus."
"I recommend that at the forthcoming meeting of the General Council, on May 26 to 27, members appoint Pascal Lamy as the next Director-General of the WTO for a period of four years starting Sept. 1, 2005," she told an informal meeting.
Carlos Perez del Castillo
Earlier, Lamy's opponent, Carlos Perez del Castillo of Uruguay, said he asked his government to withdraw his candidacy.
"I have called Pascal Lamy to congratulate him," he told AFP.
EU welcomes decision
According to the secretary of his Paris-based Notre Europe foundation, Lamy had no plans to comment before the formal meeting on May 26 which is expected to endorse his appointment, provided no country objects.
"We welcome this," said EU trade spokeswoman Claude Veron-Reville in Brussels. "He's uniquely qualified to lead the WTO at this decisive moment."
WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi
The current WTO Director General, Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand, ends his three-year term on Aug. 31.
The selection panel's choice followed a final four-day round of individual consultations behind closed doors between Mohamed and ambassadors of trading nations.
A friend of developing countries?
The team's efforts focused on determining which candidates could command the consensus of most members and from the broadest geographical range, to avoid a repeat of the north-south splits that hit the organization during the 1999 leadership contest.
The 58-year-old Lamy campaigned as a friend of developing countries, citing EU development policies he spearheaded as Brussels' trade chief from 1999 to 2004.
Campaigners of the international agency Oxfam speak in front of a protest sculpture depicting leaders of the European Union, Canada, the US and Japan with their heads in the sand at the World Trade talks in Geneva in 2004
But that was also a period when rich and poor nations clashed at the WTO, while the EU's huge farming subsidies and proposals on investment policy have annoyed poor countries.
Perez del Castillo, 60, was Uruguay's WTO ambassador from 1998 to 2004 and chaired most of the trade body's key committees.
He had said the WTO should remain in the hands of a developing country after Supachai's term ended, noting it would be an important symbol at a key time.
One of the tasks of the new leader will be to help steer the Doha Round of trade talks, prodding recalcitrant members and helping build compromise.
Anti-WTO protest in Frankfurt
The round, aimed primarily at liberalizing global commerce in a manner that benefits poorer nations, has stumbled repeatedly since it was launched in 2001 mainly because of discord between rich and poor countries.
WTO members are trying to settle their differences ahead of a crucial summit in December in Hong Kong and complete the round next year.
"The best thing now is that we solve our problems as soon as possible and that we -- all the members -- focus on our central objective, which is finishing the Doha Round, and doing it in 2006," Perez del Castillo said.