The boy from Brazil trades blows in race to head WTO

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The Independent Online

"It's like an election with all of the meeting the voters but there's no polling day," says the 59-year-old Luiz Felipe de Seixas Correa, Brazil's candidate to become head of the World Trade Organisation, during his visit this week to the UK designed to whip up support. "But I think I have picked up enough support to win."

"It's like an election with all of the meeting the voters but there's no polling day," says the 59-year-old Luiz Felipe de Seixas Correa, Brazil's candidate to become head of the World Trade Organisation, during his visit this week to the UK designed to whip up support. "But I think I have picked up enough support to win."

Unlike other top global posts such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the OECD and senior UN jobs that are chosen by one or two nations, this is genuinely up for grabs.

Mr Seixas Correa is pitched against three rivals: the Frenchman Pascal Lamy, the former EU trade commissioner; Carlos Perez del Castillo of Uruguay; Jaya Krishna Cuttaree of Mauritius.

Ambassadors to the WTO met this week to discuss the selection process and with just eight weeks to go before the 30 May deadline, the race is too close to call.

The Brazilian made a major breakthrough last month when China, the world's export powerhouse, threw its weight behind him. "China is one of the most dynamic members and in trade terms its growth is phenomenal," he says.

To scoop the WTO job would be a crowning glory in Brazil's rise from developing country into a key player in the modern globalised trade environment.

The country has led the battle for a new deal on access to cheap HIV drugs, scored victories over the United States on issues such as steel and cotton and is seen as leader of the powerful G20 group of middle-income countries. "As a developing country Brazil was peculiar because we have a very balanced distribution of [trade] partners - a quarter US, a quarter EU, a quarter Latin America and a quarter Africa and Asia," he says.

"That means we know the importance of strengthening the multilateral rules. Also the products we export go from the typical products of a developing country such as raw materials to hi-tech goods such as aircraft."

But he insists he would leave his Brazilian "persona" at the door of the WTO's Geneva HQ. He cites the recent job of chairing a World Health Organisation-sponsored negotiation on tobacco that led to its ground-breaking treaty on controlling its use.

"There I had to balance different interests - health, tax, finance," he says. "In trade we are talking about agriculture, industry, market access and services, and we have to find a balance between each part of the negotiations that take place over time even though policies, conditions and people and governments all change.

He said that with three director generals since 2001 - the last six-year term was split after a failure to agree on one person - and the fourth chair of the general council, there had been a "degree of discontinuity".

He is keen to appeal to the developing countries that make up two-thirds of the WTO membership, stressing the need for "level playing fields" and the importance of the focus on development issues. In comments that plainly refer to Mr Lamy, he says: "It is extremely important that the next director general comes from a developing country. It is a question of balance because if you have two major global governance institutions - the IMF and World Bank - whose leaders are determined by Europe and the US, then the WTO should be represented by someone from a developing country."

But he refused to discuss speculation that Mr Lamy will get the US sanction for the job in exchange for Europe allowing the American Paul Wolfowitz to take the World Bank post.

Mr Cuttaree's campaign suffered a blow when the EU decided to back Mr Lamy as its candidate rather than the Mauritian.

Mr Seixas Correa ultimately will have to win the backing of the US, which appeared to give him a more lukewarm welcome than it gave to Mr del Castillo and even Mr Lamy.

The Brazilian denies the high-profile clashes before the WTO's tribunals over steel and cotton would act against him in the race for the WTO job. "Even the closest friends have disputes," he says.

Whoever wins the race will be handed the biggest job in transatlantic politics - how to get all 148 countries to get enough agreement before the key ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December to hit a deadline of 2006 for a new trade deal.

The current talks were launched in 2001 but collapsed in 2003. He warned that failure in Hong Kong could lead to a sharp increase in the number of bilateral or regional trade deals that have been criticised by poverty groups as discriminating against the poorest states.

"If we fail, we may run those risks. But if we succeed, we will have a stronger organisation and one that will be capable of promoting trade while actually making it a powerful instrument for growth and development.

"That's exactly what this race is about - to get growth through trade."

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