WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Clinton administration said Tuesday it is continuing to consult with its trading partners but currently has no preferred candidate to head the new World Trade Organization.

``We are not for or against any candidate at this point,'' U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor told reporters.

There are two remaining candidates in the race for director general of the WTO, the more powerful Geneva-based organization created to replace the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Last week, the favored U.S. candidate, former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari withdrew after his brother was implicated in the assassination of a presidential candidate.

That left former Italian Trade Minister Renato Ruggiero, who is backed by the European Union, and South Korean Trade Minister Kim Chulsu, who is being supported by Asian countries, still in the running.

U.S. officials, however, have suggested that they can't back either candidate and would prefer someone else to enter the race.

Kantor refused on Tuesday to discuss what candidates would be acceptable to the United States, saying only that behind-the-scenes discussions are continuing.

``The United States has made its position quite clear. There is no consensus for any candidate. We are at an impasse,'' he said. ``We are consulting widely with our trading partners to determine how we are going to proceed.''

Kantor's comments came as he briefed reporters on a three-day trip beginning Thursday to China, where he will sign an agreement on copyrights and patents reached two weeks ago that averted a trade war between the two nations.

In his meetings, Kantor said he will also discuss a variety of remaining Chinese trade barriers that the United States has said must be removed to address a $29.5 billion U.S. trade deficit with China, second only to the gap with Japan.

He said his talks with Chinese Trade Minister Wu Yi would center on lower Chinese trade barriers to American computers and other capital goods, farm products and services.

``We need to have as complete and full access to their market as they have had to our market,'' Kantor said.

He said China's membership in the new WTO remains linked to that country adopting acceptable market-opening policies.