As the second phase of the selection process to appoint the next Director-General of the World Trade Organisation begins, this issue-brief highlights the candidates seeking to lead transnational policy on trade.
Issue-Brief | Sarah Akpofure
On Wednesday, 15th of July, the General Council began the second phase in the selection process for the next Director General (DG) of the international trade body, the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The process comes pursuant to current Director Azevedo’s announcement of his resignation last month leaving the top-post vacant. Director Azevedo’s tenure which was originally to come to an end next year is cut short to enable the new DG to be well prepared to coordinate the next Ministerial Conference which was postponed to 2021 due to coronavirus constraints. His term will now end on August 31st, 2020, giving the trade body until the end of the year to decide on a new DG.
The first phase of the selection involving nominations of candidates ended on 8th July. In total there are eight (8) nominees that will speak and make their case for being the best candidate to lead the trade body through trying time in international trade. Director Azevedo came with stunning credentials having served on several WTO panel disputes as well as holding posts as Brazil’s Permanent Representative to the WTO and Chief trade negotiator. However, those in the race are also no slackers.
There is also increased diversity in the pool of candidates. Of the 8 nominees, 7 are from developing countries - 3 from developing countries in Africa, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala from Nigeria, Amina Mohamed from Kenya and Abdelhamid Mamdouh from Egypt; 1 from Latin America, Jesús Seade Kuri from Mexico; 1 from the Arabian peninsula, Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri from Saudi Arabia and; 1 from East Asia, Ms. Yoo Myung-hee from South Korea. Only Liam Fox from the United Kingdom hails from a first world country.*
Given that the trade body is made of most developing countries and the focus on development, this certainly is in the favour of the contenders. In addition, 3 of the candidates are female. The trade body has never before had a female boss, which has been seen as giving the female candidates (especially the Africans) an edge over their male counterparts.
Meet the Candidates
Ngozi Okonjo Iweala has an impressive background as an expert economist, former World Bank Managing Director, and first female Minister of Finance of Nigeria. Her years of experience at the World Bank no.2 job makes her a true leader in global finance and international development. However, she is conspicuously lacking core experience in trade, though she seamlessly rebuffed this criticism by pointing to the fact that she led Nigeria in trade negotiation talks in its regional bloc (ECOWAS) during her time as Minister of Finance.
On the other hand, Aminu Mohammed, another African female contender, has amassed considerable experience within the institution. As a representative of the Permanent Mission of Kenya in Geneva, she has served as Chairperson of the General Council, Trade Policy Review Mechanism, and Dispute Settlement Mechanism. Most notably she also chaired the 2015 Ministerial Conference held in Kenya which produced the ‘Nairobi Package’ including the successful Trade Facilitation Agreement. Her skills in leading negotiations will definitely be of note for the members when choosing the next DG.
The last African contender, Abdulhamid Mamdouh of Egypt, also boasts in-depth experience within the institution, having worked as an official in the institution for close to thirty years. He worked as a legal counsel during the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) days and supported the secretariat during the Uruguay round negotiations. He continued on to become Director of Trade in Services and Investment division where he served for 16 years. Of all the candidates, he is most through and through an inhouse person who also has experience working in the Foreign Ministry of Affairs of his country.
The third female candidate is also a heavy hitter. Ms. Myung-hee is the first female Trade Minister of South Korea and has rather successfully led Korea through its several bilateral and regional trade agreements. Including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Korea-US Free Trade Agreement, and Korea-China Free Trade Agreement. Given the context of divergence in views of America and China concerning the trade body, perhaps Ms. Myung-hee's experience negotiating with US and China can produce a middle-ground between the two and move the body forward.
Another talked about candidate with insight and experience negotiating with the US is Jesús Seade Kuri who was the chief negotiator for Mexico during the Uruguay round of negotiations. He has also served as Deputy Director-General of the WTO as well as Deputy Director-General under the GATT. He also worked as a Senior Adviser to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on issues of sovereign debt relief for African countries. Most recently he led Mexico in the ‘new NAFTA’ negotiations that yielded newly operating USMCA (US, Mexico, and Canada Agreement).
Other contenders include former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Moldova, Mr. Tudor Ulianovschi who has a vast array of diplomatic experience having been an Ambassador to Switzerland and Permanent Representation of Moldova to the UN and WTO. He oversaw Moldova’s ratification of the Trade Facilitation Agreement and Government Procurement Agreement as well as bilateral agreements with the EU and Turkey and European Free Trade Area countries. Dr. Liam Fox from the United Kingdom who served as former UK Secretary of State for International Trade, built the newly formed UK department of International Trade and trade policies in preparation for their exit from the European Union (EU). The final candidate Mr. Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri is a former Minister of Economy and Planning in Saudi Arabia who implemented economic reforms to diversify the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Notably, for the first time, the EU does not put anyone forward for nomination (that is if one discounts the UK). Historically, a high number of previous director generals have come from the EU (3 out of the 6 previous DGs), this perhaps also displays the yearning for a DG from developing countries. Unlike most international bodies, decisions at the WTO are popularly taken by consensus,** this includes the selection of a DG, hence, the candidates will have to garner the support of all members.
The body itself is riddled with a lot of instability, from trade wars between major countries to stalemates in twenty-year-old negotiations, controversial decisions regarding national security and the crisis to the Appellate Body, no one can deny that the WTO is in need of capable leadership to steer it through troubling waters to safe harbor and the keep the organization relevant. Whoever the trade body decides on next will certainly have their work cut out for them. The race is on!
* Whether one classifies South Korea as developing is still an issue of debate. At the WTO, SK has foregone all benefits accruing a ‘developing’ country. However, it maintains that the decision to do so does not make it a developed country.
** Decisions can also be taken extraordinarily by vote; the default rule thus remains a consensus
This issue brief was provided by Sarah Akpofure | Research Analyst, Trade & Investment | email@example.com
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