- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2005

The World Trade Organization’s 148 members yesterday tapped Pascal Lamy as the body’s new director-general.

The 58-year-old Frenchman’s task will be to herd rich economies, up-and-coming exporters and poverty-stricken nations toward consensus on new global rules governing trade, services, investment, copyrights and other far-reaching laws.

The WTO’s decision-making body, the general council, informally met yesterday in Geneva to announce that Mr. Lamy is the last of four original candidates to remain in the race. Uruguay’s Carlos Perez del Castillo bowed out yesterday, and officials from Mauritius and Brazil withdrew their names in the past several weeks.

Mr. Lamy’s election is expected to be formalized at a May 26 meeting, and a four-year term would begin Sept. 1.

He is a socialist who has held a series of positions in French and European governments. From 1999 until January, he was the European Union’s trade commissioner, a job where he gained a detailed knowledge of global trade issues and each of the WTO members’ positions.

“Pascal’s experience and prominence in international trade will enable him to be a strong public advocate for the WTO as an institution and for open markets,” said Rob Portman, the U.S. trade representative.

The trade commissioner post also brought Mr. Lamy into repeated conflict with rival nations as he defended the 25-nation bloc’s policies and attacked others when they violated international rules. Poor and some rich nations have been especially adamant in attacking the European Union’s extensive network of farm subsidies.

“He will have to bend over backward to show that he is objective, and not supporting protectionist policies advocated by some members of the European Union,” said Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at the Institute of International Economics, a Washington think tank.

Mr. Lamy’s job description is poorly defined, and his authority is limited. The director-general must rely on personality and persuasion to press the WTO’s disparate membership toward compromise on difficult issues.

But the position nevertheless is considered prestigious — nearly on a par with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund — and has sparked bitter fights between developed and developing nations during past races.

The last selection ended with a compromise of one, three-year term each for candidates from New Zealand and Thailand.

This time the selection process, a series of consultations and informal ballots, worked smoothly.

“This bodes well for the work ahead of us and yet a further signal of members’ ability to work together and forge consensus,” Mr. Portman said.

The WTO’s members are working to forge a new set of global trade rules that would pare back farm subsidies, lower tariffs, protect inventions and ease the way for service companies to operate across international borders.

Trade ministers from the WTO’s 148 members plan to meet in Hong Kong in December for a trade summit that will set the stage for a final push on negotiations.

Two of the last three ministerial meetings ended in spectacular failure — Seattle and Cancun, Mexico, failed, while Doha, Qatar, was a success — and talks leading up to Hong Kong have progressed only in fits and starts.

“We are close to a crisis. We are not there yet. If we do not make substantive progress in May then we are in a real crisis,” Supachai Panitchpakdi, the WTO’s outgoing director-general, said last month.

The WTO does not make public the salary for the director-general.

A U.S. official said the salary, denominated in Swiss francs, has been about $236,000, plus housing and other allowances that bring the total compensation package to roughly $413,000 a year.

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