Biography: Pascal Lamy
GENEVA - Pascal Lamy becomes director general of the World Trade Organization on Thursday, an appointment that is likely to raise the profile of the position at a time of crisis for global trade talks.
A former top trade negotiator for the European Union, Lamy takes over as chances for a new global trade deal by the end of 2005 - already a year behind schedule - look increasingly slim.
Rich and poor countries remain bitterly divided over issues like farm subsidies and market access for industrial goods, reducing the chance of reaching an agreement at a meeting of trade ministers in Hong Kong in December.
Lamy, 58, brings to the job a wealth of trade negotiating expertise and a long list of contacts, including many senior politicians, that could help break deadlocks in talks, experts say.
But Lamy's role will be limited by the fact that he has no executive power over the organization, which makes decisions by consensus among its 148 members. His main task will be to set a schedule, cajole members to negotiate and help lead them to a deal.
"If anyone can help rescue the round, he's it," said Richard Portes, a professor at the London Business School, referring to upcoming trade talks. "But the round is in deep trouble."
The exiting director general, Supachai Panitchpakdi, a former deputy prime minister of Thailand, warned last month that chances for a deal were receding.
Among the disputes that have simmered over the summer break is how to cut the $250 billion that rich countries spend annually on farm support. The United States and the European Union have accused each other of dragging their feet, and both have lambasted poor countries for failing to open their markets to industrial goods and services.
Initially at least, Lamy can rely on broad support - he was chosen with the backing of not only the United States and Europe, but also large developing countries like Brazil, India and China.
By comparison, Supachai, who becomes head of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development this week, had to split his term with Michael Moore, a former prime minister from New Zealand, after a long battle between rich and poor countries over the job.
"We believe Lamy is very well placed to do well," said Fabian Delcros, an EU spokesman in Geneva. "But there's no magic. Having an excellent director general is not enough to succeed."
Robert Portman, the U.S. trade representative, was recently quoted as saying that Lamy would "bring a new aggressiveness to the job."
Lamy was the EU's trade commissioner from 1999 until last November. During that time he worked closely with Robert Zoellick, Portman's predecessor, who is now U.S. deputy secretary of state.
In his EU role, Lamy took part in the WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in 2003, when poor countries blocked a deal. That experience taught Lamy the importance of compromise, said Portes, the London professor. "He has developed a subtle ability to balance conflicting interests," he said.
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