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Swiss greet appointment of new WTO chief

Pascal Lamy takes up his new post on September 1 Keystone

Switzerland has welcomed the appointment of Pascal Lamy as head of the Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO).

This content was published on May 26, 2005 - 17:20

The Frenchman had been the preferred candidate of Switzerland and the European Union since the first round of consultations.

Lamy - the only candidate left in the running for the prestigious position – was endorsed by the 148 WTO members at a meeting behind closed doors on Thursday.

"He is a personality who is attached to traditional European values and therefore rather close to our views of the strengthening of the multilateral trading system," said Luzius Wasescha, Switzerland’s ambassador to the WTO.

The senior Swiss trade official said Lamy could contribute to breaking the deadlock in the latest round of trade talks scheduled for December in Hong Kong.

"But the status of director-general doesn’t allow him to impose solutions. The main actors are WTO member states," Wasescha told swissinfo.

The meeting of trade ministers is due to approve a draft deal on lowering barriers to business across the global economy.

Facilitator

Wasescha’s view is echoed by Daniel Wüger, senior research fellow at the Bern-based World Trade Institute.

"All a director-general can do is create a good environment for talks. He is just a facilitator. He enjoys broad support and can bring people together and put all the options on the table, but that's all he can do."

Wüger does not expect the new director-general to be particularly good news for Switzerland.

"Switzerland will still have to fight to defend agricultural subsidies. And with this particular topic - one of the biggest stumbling blocks - Lamy will have to be careful not to take sides. He has to maintain a neutral position and can't be seen to have an opinion."

Wasescha recalled the "perfect understanding" of agriculture policy Lamy had shown when he was EU trade commissioner between 1999 and 2004.

"But we shall see what position he will take as director-general of the WTO," Wasescha cautioned.

Another main challenge for Lamy – currently an associate professor of politics in Paris - is to handle mounting tensions between the EU and the United States.

Experts have warned that the world’s two economic superpowers are heading for a major trade row in a dispute over subsidies to their main aircraft manufacturers.

The 58-year-old Frenchman replaces Thailand’s Supachai Panitchpakdi who steps down at the end of August after completing his three-year term.

Talks with Iran

In another development, the WTO on Thursday decided to start membership talks with Iran after the US dropped its long-standing opposition.

Wasescha said Switzerland had supported Iran’s application for the past five years "because we believe that all trading nations should be in the WTO if they are ready to fulfil the conditions for membership".

The move is seen as a reward for Iran following Teheran’s agreement to maintain the suspension of its nuclear activities.

swissinfo

Key facts

Pascal Lamy of France is the fifth director-general of the WTO and succeeds Supachai Panitchpakdi.
He takes up his new post on September 1.
The Geneva-based WTO was set up in 1995 and replaced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt).
It is the only global international organisation dealing with trade rules and has 148 member countries and a staff of 630 people.

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