After three rounds of voting the Mexican and the Brazilian candidates are the only ones still contending for Pascal Lamy’s chair, whose term as Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will end next August.

Nine candidates were put forward by their respective countries to contend for the position: Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand and South Korea (http://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/dg_e/dg_selection_process_e.htm). The array of candidates, most of them from developing countries, reflects the shift in the international order and the interest of developing countries to be in the table of negotiations.

One of the favourites was Mari Pangestu, former Minister of Trade and current Minister of Tourism and Creative Industry of Indonesia, who retreated from the race in the last round of voting. Ms. Pangestu not only has experience as trade negotiator, cabinet member and in academia, but also an Indonesian candidate would have the advantage to easily build bridges with developing Asia and with the Muslim world.

Herminio Blanco was Minister of Trade and Industry from 1994 to 2000. He was chief negotiator for Mexico during NAFTA talks, the Uruguay Round and other trade agreements. Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo is a career diplomat who has represented Brazil in several trade negotiations, including the Doha Round. He has been appointed as Brazil’s Permanent Representative to the WTO and other international organisations.

In this last stage of the election process, the finalists seem to be focusing in African votes. Both have visited several countries in the continent and have met African leaders in multilateral fora. Some African countries have expressed their fears to abrupt trade liberalization and would prefer a more cautious candidate.

One of the main challenges for the future Director-General is to restore the trust of the international community on the multilateral economic system. Without the support and the trust of the members, it would be very difficult for the new head of the WTO to break the impasse and move forward the Doha Round negotiations. Moreover, Lamy’s successor will have to fight protectionist measures that have (re)emerged under arguments of national interest or disguised behind regional free trade initiatives.

More than ever the WTO requires strategic and effective leadership. While some developing countries would support the Brazilian candidate because they would prefer diplomatic activism or have similar trade interests, others would consider as a better option, the fresh blood that an outsider like Blanco could bring to the organisation.

Despite rivalries and personal preferences, no matter who the winner is, both candidates have excellent credentials to fulfill the position. Both understand the concerns of developing countries and have a broad and solid knowledge of the international trade system. The question is would they be able to modernize the WTO and bring it back to the core of the international economic system?

It is Brazil against Mexico… but at the end, it is Latin America and the developing world who wins.

¡Suerte, qué gane el mejor!

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