North-South battle looms on chief for U.N. agency

GENEVA, May 12 (Reuters) - The U.N. World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) faces a potentially bitter North-South battle this week over who will steer it through the next six years.

A total of 14 candidates are in the list to replace Director-General Kamal Idris of Sudan who is stepping down a year early after accusations that he faked his birth date to win quick promotion within the body.

“This is very important for business because WIPO plays a key role in managing global patent and trademark pacts which underpin many trade agreements. And the DG can certainly influence the line it takes,” said one IP analyst.

Some diplomats who follow U.N. activities in Geneva say the WIPO election could reflect a wider struggle for influence in the world body between Western nations and Islamic countries and their allies -- African states, Russia, China and Cuba.

“This is what we have seen in the Human Rights Council to the benefit of the OIC (the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference) and not to the benefit of universal human rights,” said a Western envoy who asked not to be named.

Of the WIPO candidates, six are from developed countries of the “North” -- four from Europe and one each from Australia and Japan. Latin America has three candidates, OIC countries two, Africa and developing Asia one each, and Russia one.


The 83 countries in the WIPO Coordinating Committee which makes the final choice are officially seeking the best-qualified candidate to run a highly-technical agency, the U.N.’s richest, “but politics are bound to play the main part,” said an insider.

“North” countries have 30 seats on the committee, the OIC has 18 and non-Islamic African and Asian states -- with China, North Korea and Russia -- that normally line up with the OIC in the Rights Council, have 20.

If both groups remain solid when only two candidates remain after several rounds of voting, the Latin Americans and Caribbeans, who include opponents of the West like Venezuela as well as allies like Chile, will be the decision-makers.

Many diplomats predict that one of the final two is likely to be Pakistan’s Masood Khan, who as his country’s ambassador in the Rights Council has led an increasingly fierce OIC assault on Western “Islamophobia” and “oppression of Muslims.”

Facing off against him could be Australia’s Frances Gurry, seen as architect of WIPO’s Internet domain name dispute settlement system and a deputy director-general, and another Idris deputy, former French ambassador Philippe Petit.

Both are know to have strong support as experts, as does the Brazilian candidate Jose Graca Aranha, another insider at WIPO where he heads the international registrations department for trademarks and geographical indications.

Diplomats say Mexico’s Jorge Amigo Castaneda could also emerge. He is a former banker who has been involved in WIPO committees, and in IP issues during international trade negotiations, since the late 1990s.

The other candidates are Alicja Adamczak of Poland, Toufiq Ali of Bangladesh, Djorgji Filipov of Macedonia, Enrique Manalo of Philippines, James Otieno Odek of Kenya, Bojan Pretnar of Slovenia, Borius Simonov of Russia, Yoshiyuki Tagaki of Japan, and Jose Delmer Urbizo of Honduras.

Voting by secret ballot begins on Tuesday, with each round eliminating two candidates until nine are left. Then one will be eliminated each round, leaving room, WIPO officials say, for negotiations on withdrawal and switching support.

A final outcome is not expected before late on Wednesday. (Editing by Janet Lawrence)