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WTO hopeful Blanco frets over regional trade deals

Herminio Blanco

Win McNamee/Reuters

Former Mexican trade minister and NAFTA negotiator Herminio Blanco, 63, is one of nine candidates vying to succeed France's Pascal Lamy as director-general of the World Trade Organization.

Here, he discusses his chances, and the challenge of making the 159-country institution relevant again as regional free trade deals proliferate. The interview has been edited and condensed.

There are nine candidates to lead the World Trade Organization, representing nearly every continent, including three Latin Americans.

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Why a Mexican over the others?

It's important to make two points. One is the country. The other one is the person. My experience in very difficult political trade negotiations with the U.S., the Europeans and many other countries gives me the background and the skills, to bring the Doha round [of trade talks] to a good end. Why Mexico? Because of what we have done in using trade as a successful lever in growth, development and prosperity. The fact that Mexico is exporting $1-billion a day speaks highly of what we've done.

What is the greatest challenge facing the WTO?

Regional trade agreements are being made in Asia, in the Pacific, in the Atlantic. The WTO and its members should understand very clearly that business in the world wants different rules, more modern rules and faster rules. The WTO, if it wants to remain relevant, has to compete with those agreements, and complement those agreements.

How do you take the momentum away from these regional deals?

It's not taking away momentum. Remember that the Uruguay Round was pretty stuck when we started negotiating the [North American Free-Trade Agreement]. NAFTA was a pretty good catalyst. And in a sense, all of these agreements are a challenge. No doubt the negotiations announced by the U.S. and the European Union should be a catalyst for the Doha Round. Both the E.U. and the U.S. are responsible world players and they don't want to have a WTO that becomes irrelevant.

How concerned are you about rising protectionism since the global financial crisis?

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One of the clear acid tests of the WTO is precisely that, even with this massive financial and macroeconomic crisis, we didn't have a massive increase in protectionism. This speaks highly about the effectiveness of the WTO.

There's talk of the Trans Pacific Partnership being designed a counterweight to China. Do these regional deals seek to exclude China?

These regional free trade agreements hinge on them being open to new entrants. At some point, all of these agreements will have to converge. Not only converge, but have a systemic relationship with the WTO. I don't see a WTO that remains relevant in 10 years if the only relationship between the WTO, and let's say the TPP, is simply as a regulator. It would be a waste of all this energy in opening up markets regionally.

Seven of the nine candidates for the WTO job are from developing nations. What is the significance of that?

During the 70 years of history of the [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade] and the WTO, only three years have we had a director-general coming from a developing country – Indonesia. Trade has become important for several nations, especially in Latin America. The fact that we have three candidates shows that a continent which not too long ago was pretty inward-looking, now is looking outside, with more willingness to participate in the world.

What kind of commitments of support have you received so far?

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You can't separate your genes from the genes of the country. Talk of the person and the country has been important to all of my campaign. It has been very well received. My experience as a negotiator, as a minister and in the private sector makes me a very strong candidate.

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About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

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