The WTO director general doesn’t have the influence over loans and investments that the president of the World Bank enjoys, or the financial clout of the International Monetary Fund’s managing director.
But neither does the role have any “gentleman’s agreement” that doles out the position to a European or an American. Among the WTO’s 157 members, it is a one-nation, one-vote free-for-all, and with the growing influence of countries like Brazil and China in the global economy, the lobbying for the job is expected to be intense.
Nine nations nominated candidates before the Dec. 31 deadline — more than twice the number in competition when Lamy took over in 2005. Seven are from developing countries — trade ministers, ambassadors and current and former officials — one is from South Korea, and another is from New Zealand. That guarantees the new WTO head won’t come from the Western developed world.
But beyond that, all bets are off.
All the candidates “know this place, and none towers above the field,” said a Geneva-based trade official who discussed the race on condition of anonymity.
Much is at stake. The Doha talks have been at the center of the WTO’s agenda for a decade. But the acknowledgment of a stalemate is now widespread — a sign itself of tension between the developed and developing world over basic policy questions — and the number of alternate trade and economic debates within the organization is growing.
The United States and a group of 19 nations are trying to negotiate a broad agreement to open their service sectors — a key interest of U.S. businesses. China’s rapid economic rise has triggered important discussions about how to classify a country as “developing” or an economy as “market-based.” Both definitions have real-world implications: Developing nations get more leeway under WTO rules to protect their local economy; China is fighting to shed its “non-market economy” designation so it is not so easily slapped with anti-dumping penalties.
Other countries have pushed the organization in new directions — in Brazil’s case, arguing that WTO-sanctioned penalties should be used to punish nations that distort exchange rates to gain a trade advantage.
The proposal grew out of Brazil’s worry about China as well as its anger over U.S. Federal Reserve policies that Brazilian officials say cheapened the dollar at the expense of other currencies.
Brazil has nominated its current WTO ambassador, Roberto Carvalho de Azevedo, to lead the organization. In a news conference Thursday, he said he wants the organization to look for ways to confront the trade effects of national exchange-rate policies.