Switzerland’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Luzius Wasescha, has been proposed as the new chairman for the WTO’s negotiations on industrial goods, trade sources said.

Wasescha would replace Canada’s Don Stephenson as industrial goods mediator following Stephenson’s return to Ottawa in the summer and be responsible for guiding one of the core areas of the WTO’s long-running Doha talks, next to agriculture.

Rich and poor countries have clashed in the industrial goods negotiations over the extent to which each should open up their markets for goods such as cars and clothing by cutting tariffs.

Developing countries say they need to shield their fledgling industries from the full impact of market opening.

But the United States and European Union fear that big developing countries like Brazil, India and China could use special arrangements for poor countries to carve out entire industrial sectors from market opening, depriving rich-country businesses of new export opportunities.

The United States also wants to encourage big developing countries to join voluntary agreements to eliminate tariffs in certain sectors, but countries such as China say this goes beyond the agreed scope of the talks.

Wasescha, 62, is an experienced diplomat from Switzerland’s eastern Romansch-speaking region of Grisons, known for his wry sense of humor about the often arcane and tortuous trade talks.

Although Switzerland’s Alpine farmers rely on a high degree of protection for agriculture, its high-tech and luxury businesses require open world markets for industrial goods.

Wasescha confirmed that his name had been put forward but declined to comment until the after the nomination is formalized at a meeting of the industrial goods negotiating group on Oct. 2.

WTO members have reached an informal consensus on Wasescha’s appointment, and this week’s meeting will make it official, trade sources said. (Reuters)