Candidates from nine mainly developing nations face off this week for the job of reviving stalled global trade talks as the new head of the World Trade Organization.
Six men and three women, many of them current or former government ministers, have thrown their hat into the ring to replace Frenchman Pascal Lamy as head of the WTO.
"It is very good for the organisation to have so many candidates with so much experience and knowledge of the WTO system," agency spokesman Keith Rockwell told the Swiss news agency ATS Monday.
The candidates, the largest number to vie for the top post since the WTO was created in 1995, face the WTO's general council over three days beginning Tuesday as the selection process gets underway.
The director general's main mission is to help advance global trade negotiations that aim to spur growth by opening markets and removing trade barriers, including subsidies, excessive taxes and regulations.
The replacement to Lamy, who finishes his second four-year term in August, will be charged with trying to revive the so-called Doha Round of trade talks.
The Doha Round was launched in 2001 but has since encountered obstacles set in particular by China, the European Union, India and the United States.
Instead the momentum has moved to regional and bilateral trade deals.
As Lamy's second term drew to a close, developing countries said it was time that one of their own get another chance as WTO director general -- something that is clearly reflected in the list of candidates put forward before the December 31 cut-off date.
"There is no advance voting in the regional groups (of WTO's 158 member countries), but the principle that the next director general should be from a developing country enjoys broad support," Rockwell told ATS.
According to diplomatic sources, picking a WTO chief could meanwhile be complicated by the fact that another top UN job is opening up this year: to head the organisation's trade and development body UNCTAD.
Nations often try to balance representation in international organisations.
The current UNCTAD head, Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand who is preparing to retire, also happens to be Lamy's predecessor at the WTO, where he served a single term.
Since the WTO recently had an Asian chief, diplomatic sources suggest that the top post this time could go to Africa.
That could favour the first candidate to face the WTO's general council Tuesday: Ghana's former trade minister Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen, who is currently is serving as a trade advisor at the UN Economic Commission for Africa and who is one of two African candidates.
The next candidate up to bat will be Costa Rica's Foreign Trade Minister Anabel Gonzales -- one of three candidates from Latin America, another heavily-tipped region -- followed by Indonesia's current tourism minister and former trade minister Mari Elka Pangestu.
Then on Wednesday, four candidates will face the music, starting with the only one from a developed economy: New Zealand's trade minister Tim Groser.
He will be followed by high-level United Nations executive Amina Mohamed of Kenya, Jordanian former trade minister Ahmad Thougan Hindawi and finally Herminio Blanco Mendoza of Mexico.
Mendoza is an economist and former minister who led that country's negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement, as well as Mexico's participation in the Uruguay round of talks that preceded the creation of the WTO in 1995.
Finally, on Thursday, South Korean Trade Minister Taeho Bark and Brazilian diplomat and envoy to the WTO Roberto Azevedo will go through the tough interview process.
The UN's trade body said Monday that each candidate would be given just 15 minutes to present themselves and their vision for the WTO, before being questioned for an hour and 15 minutes.
After the closed-door interview, each of the candidates will hold a brief news conference.
The WTO's General Council is mandated with selecting the director general by consensus, and candidates that stand little chance of being selected are expected to withdraw on their own.
The decision must be made no later than May 31, and the nominee will pick up the WTO reins on September 1.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]