Costa Rica, Ghana, New Zealand Favored for Top WTO Job

Candidates from Costa Rica, Ghana and New Zealand are the bookmakers’ early favorites to succeed Frenchman Pascal Lamy as head of the World Trade Organization.

Anabel Gonzalez and Tim Groser, the trade ministers of Costa Rica and New Zealand, are tied as 3-1 frontrunners for the top job by London-based Ladbrokes Plc, meaning a winning 1-pound ($1.59) bet would yield 3 pounds profit. Ghana’s former trade minister, Alan John Kyerematen, follows with 7-2 odds. Dublin-based Paddy Power Plc says the odds favor Kyerematen, at 9-4. Groser and Gonzalez are tied in second place at 11-4.

The race to replace Lamy, who retires in August, has attracted nine candidates, including three women for the first time, and is the most competitive contest ever for the four-year post. Larger WTO members, including the U.S., the European Union and India, may back the candidate they see as the most likely to support their own positions at the Geneva-based trade arbiter.

“All big powers, the U.S., the EU and China, are going to start with the candidate who they believe has the best chance to promote their interests in the WTO -- that’s obvious,” Fredrik Erixon, head of the European Center for International Political Economy in Brussels, said in a phone interview today.

“What will make it a little more problematic this time, and why we are perhaps not going to see as strong fights between countries as you would imagine in normal circumstances, is that there is no multilateral trade agenda,” Erixon said. “Countries may enter this particular viewpoint with less emphasis on their own interests, but maybe they will look at it more from a systemic point of view, who can save the system.”

Obstacles Ahead

The top three favorites face obstacles that could skew the bookmakers’ predictions. While developed economies such as the U.S. may favor Groser, New Zealand has already had a national as WTO chief -- former Prime Minister Mike Moore -- and countries such as India say the post should go to someone from a developing nation.

While Kyerematen has secured the African Union’s endorsement, his candidacy may cause an African split because Kenyan Amina Mohamed is one of his rivals. In addition, Kyerematen may face opposition from advanced developing economies after suggesting that he backs the idea of limiting preferential treatment under WTO rules for some of them.

Gonzalez, who headed the WTO’s agricultural division for three years, may have an edge in terms of geography and gender. Costa Rica’s small size is a plus, though its 15-year WTO battle with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries over their preferential access to the EU’s banana market and subsequent campaign to address trade preferences in the Doha Round of talks hasn’t endeared the country to WTO members.

The other candidates are Indonesia’s Mari Pangestu, Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo, Mexico’s Herminio Blanco, South Korea’s Bark Tae-Ho and Jordan’s Ahmad Thougan Hindawi.

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