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US to back Lamy as next WTO chief

Brussels, April 5: (Reuters): Former European Union trade chief Pascal Lamy is a strong candidate to head the World Trade Organization but there are also other good candidates, the United States said on Tuesday.

'We believe he (Lamy) would be a very strong candidate,' United States deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick told a news conference.

'The WTO would be very well served by his candidacy but there are other candidates as well,' he said after meeting members of the European Parliament.

Zoellick is former US trade representative and developed a close working relationship with Lamy despite transatlantic trade tensions.

President Bush has nominated Ohio congressman Rob Portman as the next trade representative.

The United States has yet to indicate which candidate it will support and this has led to speculation that Washington and Brussels may have done a deal involving the top jobs at the Geneva-based World Trade Organization and the World Bank.

Zoellick said Lamy was planning to visit Washington, something he had urged the former EU Commissioner to do, and outline his ideas for the future of the world trade body.

'The United States is a big player in the WTO process. Sometimes our supports help, sometimes it doesn't help,' Zoellick said laughing.

'In this case we are just one vote of many. But we have made very clear that we'd be very comfortable with (former) Commissioner Lamy and that I think he could play a strong role,' he added.

The four candidates to head the World Trade Organization are Brazil's WTO ambassador Luiz Felipe Seixas Correa, former European Trade Commission Lamy of France, Mauritius Foreign Minister Jaya Krishna Cuttaree and long-time Uruguayan trade envoy Carlos Perez del Castillo.

The World Trade Organization plans to nominate its new head by the end of May with the winner starting work on September 1.

It is seeking to avoid the bitter battle in 1999 between supporters of the current chief Thailand's Supachai Panitchpakdi and New Zealand's Mike Moore. They each served a three-year term in the compromise deal.

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