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The Swiss mountain resort of Davos, site of the annual World Economic Forum

ARND WIEGMANN/REUTERS

Next week's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is shaping up as more than just a gabfest for the wealthy and powerful.

It's also going to be a crucial campaign stop for many of the nine candidates vying for the top at the World Trade Organization, now held by Pascal Lamy of France. They'll be working the hallways and cocktail parties at the Swiss ski resort in search of votes.

Among the targets of the vote-hustling will be Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast, who is slated to speak on a panel at the forum.

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Canadian officials pointed out that Mr. Fast, one of the longest-serving trade ministers on the circuit, has "strong personal relations" with at least four of the candidates – New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser, Costa Rican Trade Minister Anabel Gonzalez, former Indonesian trade minister Mari Pangestu and South Korean Trade Minister Bark Taeho.

The profile of the WTO has faded a bit in recent years, partly because of the failure of efforts to reach a new multilateral free trade deal.

But it's still a prestige job, with considerable influence.

Like the selection process for the heads of other major international organizations, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the selection process for the WTO director-general is a bit murky. The 157-member general council can hold a vote, but it never does. Instead, the heads of the WTO's three main decision-making bodies choose a consensus candidate after consulting member countries.

The so-called troika of WTO leaders is comprised of General Council chair Elin Johansen of Norway, Dispute Settlement chair Shahid Bashir of Pakistan and Council for Trade in Goods chair Eduardo Gomez of Columbia.

The betting of many trade watchers is that the top job will go to someone from either Latin America or Africa, neither of which has ever had one of its own in the top job.

But the race could be messy. At nine candidates, it's the largest-ever field.

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Inside U.S. Trade, the bible of many trade watchers, recently identified Ms. Gonzalez of Costa Rica, along with Brazilian Trade Minister Roberto Asevedo and former Ghanaian Trade Minister Alan Kyerematen as the current front runners.

The candidates are slated to make 90-minute presentations to the WTO general council Jan. 29. Under WTO rules, the candidate to replace Mr. Lamy must be identified by the end of May, or at least three months before the end of his term.

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