Latin America may rally behind single WTO candidate

Latin American candidates bidding to head the World Trade Organization could step down from the race and rally behind the regional figure with the best chance of being appointed, Mexico's candidate to lead the trade body said.

Mexico, Brazil and Costa Rica have nominated candidates to replace Pascal Lamy as director general of the WTO, which is struggling to remain relevant after repeated failures to revive global trade liberalization talks.

A total of nine candidates are running to take over when Lamy's term expires in August.

"We're convinced that, ideally, the new director general of the WTO should come from Latin America," Herminio Blanco, a Mexican trade negotiator who led talks over the North American Free-Trade Agreement, told Reuters late on Saturday.

"The arrangement between the three of us is 'let things take their course'. When we see what's going on with the selection process, which will have several stages, we'll see if it's possible for all of us to get behind whoever is doing best," he said in an interview during a summit of European and Latin American leaders in Chile.

Brazil has nominated Roberto Azevedo, an experienced negotiator who has represented Brazil at the trade club, while Costa Rica has proposed Trade Minister Anabel Gonzalez.

Brazil, Latin America's largest economy, presented a candidate to lead the 157-member organization in 2005, but splits within the region over who to support weakened the challenge.

Blanco said his experience, which also includes closing trade deals with the European Union, Japan, Nicaragua and Bolivia, would be helpful in getting the deadlocked Doha round of world trade talks back on track.

"We bring the technical and political experience of negotiating with the big guys and the little guys, which I think are important elements for trying to resolve the Doha round," he said.

The negotiations, which were launched in 2001, got bogged down by differences between developed countries and emerging market nations, mostly over agriculture.

Blanco highlighted Mexico's push to open up its markets by signing numerous free-trade deals. "As a country we've got the credentials that show our belief in free trade," he said.

Brazil is a member of the Mercosur trade group, which is reluctant to sign free-trade deals.

Many trade diplomats think the WTO's top job should go to an African, Latin American or Caribbean candidate, since all but one head of the 17-year-old WTO has been from developed countries.

(Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Bernard Orr)