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Swiss signal support for EU choice to head WTO

Pascal Lamy is one of four candidates for WTO director general Keystone

The government has signalled that it supports former European Union trade commissioner Pascal Lamy as the next head of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The announcement comes as a surprise in some circles, as it follows indications that Switzerland might support a candidate from a developing country.

A senior government official was quoted last week as saying that Switzerland might stand behind such a candidate if the developing countries themselves clearly supported his nomination.

But a spokesman for the economics ministry indicated on Friday that the alleged comments did not correspond to the government’s position at this stage of the consultations.

Head of communications Manuel Sager told swissinfo: “Together with all the other members of the WTO, Switzerland was called upon to communicate to the presidency of the General Council its views on the various candidacies.

“In this first round of consultations, Mr Lamy ranked at the top of Switzerland’s list of preferences expressed to the presidency of the general council.”

Lamy is also the preferred candidate of the 15 European Union member countries, who collectively represent Switzerland’s major trading partner.

WTO officials said on Friday Lamy had received the most support in the first round of consultations to find a new head.

“Lamy had the highest level of preferences and the most broad support,” said selection panel chairman Amina Mohamed.

Balancing act

The current head of the Geneva-based WTO is Thailand’s Supachai Panitchpakdi, and four countries – France, Uruguay, Brazil and Mauritius – have nominated candidates to succeed him as of September 1.

The heads of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund traditionally come from the United States and Europe respectively.

The WTO, the other major global institution in the field of economics and trade relations, is thus often seen as the best opportunity for developing countries to directly influence international policy in such areas.

The opening of discussions about Panitchpakdi’s successor comes shortly after Swiss Economics Minister Joseph Deiss publicly supported the nomination of controversial US candidate Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank.

The IMF has been headed since last year by former Spanish economics minister Rodrigo Rato.

Deiss and Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz will be representing Switzerland in Washington this week, together with national bank chairman Jean-Pierre Roth, at the annual spring meeting of the IMF and the World Bank.

Common choice?

The presidency of the WTO General Council is expected to submit a report on the results of the first round of consultations to the organisation’s permanent national representatives.

It will then hold further consultations to identify a candidate on whom all members can agree.

A candidate is due to be selected by the end of May.

Lamy, currently an associate professor of politics in Paris, served as EU trade commissioner from 1999 to 2004.

One of his strongest rivals is Uruguay’s Carlos Perez del Castillo, currently special advisor on international trade negotiations to the president of Uruguay. He is a former permanent representative to the WTO and has chaired most of its top bodies.

swissinfo, Chris Lewis

The WTO was founded in 1995 to succeed the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
It is the only international organisation that deals with the global rules of trade between nations.
Much of its current work builds on global talks held before its creation, but it is also hosting new negotiations under the 2001 “Doha Development Agenda”.

The government has indicated that it supports former EU trade commissioner Pascal Lamy to head the WTO.

A spokesman said reports Switzerland might favour a candidate from a developing country did not reflect its position at this stage.

He confirmed that Lamy topped Switzerland’s list of preferences in the initial round of consultations.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR