African candidates stumble in WTO leadership race

Two African candidates have stumbled in the race to lead the World Trade Organisation, along with their counterparts from Costa Rica and Jordan, sparking anger, Kenya's trade ambassador told AFP Friday.

"We've had a meeting with the troika to brief us on the outcome of the consultations," said Anthony Andanje, referring to the top diplomats who are steering the process by polling all 159 member nations of the body that sets the rules of global commerce.

"They told us that the candidates from Ghana, Costa Rica, Kenya and Jordan were the candidates least expected to get broad support," Andanje said in Geneva.

An unprecedented nine candidates are in the running to replace Frenchman Pascal Lamy -- a former European Union trade chief who has served two four-year terms at the helm of the WTO -- and emerging nations aim to stake their claim on the job which is vacant on September 1.

With four names now set to be axed from the race -- Kenya's former trade ambassador Amina Mohamed, plus Costa Rica's commerce minister Anabel Gonzalez, Jordan's Ahmad Hindawi and Alan Kyerematen of Ghana -- Brazil's WTO ambassador Roberto Azevedo is seen as a favourite in diplomatic circles.

But another key name is Indonesia's former trade minister Mari Pangestu, whose country is due to host the WTO's next summit at the end of this year -- one of three women in the race, a first for the organisation.

The remaining challengers are Mexico's Herminio Blanco Mendoza, South Korean Taeho Bark and Tim Groser of New Zealand.

The main task for the WTO's new director general will be to revive long-stalled talks on boosting international trade, which Lamy has warned could fail amid nations' bickering.

Unlike similar organisations such as the various arms of the United Nations, whose chiefs are nominated, the WTO elects its leader based on a consensus system, meaning any member can block the process.

Amid reports of horse-trading between different country blocs -- a common feature of leadership contests in international organisations -- Andanje said that Kenya was deeply unhappy with how the race was being run.

"The selection process was flawed and the procedures were violated," he said, while declining to elaborate on whether his country would therefore block the process.

"We want to make our reservations known," he emphasised.

The field is expected to be narrowed to two names, with the process expected to be wrapped up by the end of May.

Created in 1995, the WTO aims to advance global trade negotiations in a drive to spur growth by opening markets and removing trade barriers, including subsidies, excessive taxes and regulations.

Its so-called Doha Round of talks was launched in 2001, with the stated goal of harnessing global commerce to develop poorer economies, but has faltered in the face of obstacles set in particular by China, the EU, India and the United States.