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Lamy, Former EU Trade Chief, to Head WTO

The 148 members of the World Trade Organization officially appointed the former European Union Trade Commissioner, Pascal Lamy, as its Director-General.

Unlike five years ago, the process of choosing a new chief for the World Trade Organization went smoothly. In 1999, the WTO was unable to agree on one candidate for director-general. After a long bitter battle, the post was finally split between two candidates.

Kenyan Ambassador Amina Mohamed, who led the selection process, praises the WTO members for, as she says, having successfully appointed a new director-general within the prescribed time and in a dignified manner.

"I told them that we had turned the corner and that we had proved the skeptics wrong," she said. I said together all of us had laid a solid and firm foundation for the future of this organization and that we must all be very proud as a result."

Pascal Lamy, 58, of France, who will be the organization's fifth director-general, formerly served as the European Union Trade Chief. He succeeds Supachai Panitchpakdi.

Ms. Mohamed says Mr. Lamy has made it very clear that he sees his major task to be the conclusion of the Doha round of free trade negotiations.

"It is really the membership that will be making the decisions," she noted. "But, we will definitely need his charisma and his professionalism, his knowledge of issues and of the institution to help drive the process…He is a master runner. He will have to learn to be a sprinter by the time he gets here on the first of September."

In a statement, Pascal Lamy expressed his thanks to the WTO members and promised he would work hard to make the Hong Kong Ministerial in December a success. Among other things, he said he would place the interests of developing countries at the center of the world trading system.

In another major decision, the WTO General Council agreed to allow Iran to begin negotiations to join the body. Ms. Mohamed says the deal was struck after the United States dropped its long-standing veto.

"There was no objection from the United States which had previously objected to establishing a working party for Iran's accession, for other reasons, for many other reasons. So we were very pleased in fact that no objections were expressed today and that we could go ahead and establish a working party for the accession of Iran," she added.

Diplomats believe the United States dropped its objection to Iran to reward it for continuing to suspend its nuclear activities until the end of July. But, this is only the first step. It is likely to take many years of negotiations before Iran achieves the economic reforms demanded for it to become a full member. And, WTO watchers say, Teheran also will have to stay on the right side of Washington.