On Friday, July 17th, the General Council of the World Trade Organization concluded three days of meetings with the eight candidates for the post of Director-General. With the current Director-General, Roberto Azevedo, stepping down on August 31st, the WTO is engaged in a somewhat truncated process for selecting a new Director-General, though it is likely that the selection will not conclude until early November of this year.
Each candidate had ninety minutes with the General Council and then were given a press conference for thirty minutes. At the press conference, the candidate would provide a short opening statement and then answer questions from journalists. The order of candidates meeting with the General Council followed the order of receipt of the candidate’s nomination from their government. Thus, Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria) and Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), the first three nominations received by the WTO, met with the General Council on July 15. On July 16, the General Council met with Mr. Tudor Ulianovschi (Rep. of Moldova), H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Rep. of Korea) and Amb. Amina C. Mohamed (Rep. of Kenya). On July 17, the General Council held meetings with H.E. Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia) and Dr. Liam Fox (United Kingdom). The week also provided candidates with the opportunity to meet with individual WTO Members or groups of WTO Members based on availability, etc.
While the meetings with the General Council are simply an early part of the two month outreach by candidates to Members to become better known, the meetings are nonetheless important as they provide WTO Members the opportunity to hear from and to ask questions of each candidate under comparable circumstances. While the minutes of the General Council meetings will be generated by the WTO Secretariat in the coming months and made public some time after that, the General Council meetings are not open to the public. Hence the material available to evaluate the three days of meetings is limited to prepared statements made to the General Council and the press conferences for each candidate held after the candidate had met with the General Council. Those materials can be accessed from the WTO website. See Candidates for DG selection process 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/dg_e/dgsel20_e/dgsel20_e.htm (shows biography, statement to General Council, photo gallery and video press conference for each candidate); WTO members meet the candidates for Director-General, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgsel_17jul20_e.htm.
What follows are first my summary impressions from the public information of the candidates. Those are followed by my summaries of each candidate’s presentation and answers to questions.
Summary Impressions of the Candidates
In the challenging environment that confronts the world at the present time, one has to marvel that eight individuals were willing to be put forward by their governments to pursue heading the World Trade Organization. Despite some successes in its first twenty-five years, the WTO is viewed as being severely challenged. Its negotiating function, historically the most important function of the GATT and presumed to be critical in the WTO, has been at least seriously challenged, unable to deliver on many of the subjects that have been considered. This has led the WTO rules to be both outdated and not dealing with current issues of great importance. The dispute settlement system has seen the shutdown of the second-tier review (the Appellate Body) as a variety of longstanding concerns of the United States have not been addressed leading the U.S. to block appointing new members of the Appellate Body. Standing Committees that monitor notifications and discuss topics within the Committee’s jurisdiction have been less robust than historically was the case. Notifications are problematic for many Members in terms of completeness and timeliness of notifications. The lack of successful negotiations has raised concerns on obligations of members as economic development changes the relative ability of Members to contribute. Also the growth of Members operating on economic systems different than market economy models has created challenges as to practices that may not be addressed by WTO rules. And the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many export restraints to address concerns about adequacy of medical supplies or agricultural goods.
So it is encouraging that there are eight individuals willing to be considered to head the WTO going forward in such circumstances.
Each candidate has different backgrounds and experiences which may appeal to some WTO Members but not others. For example, Minister Mohammmad Al-Tuwaijri has an extensive business background as well as four years in a Minister position for Saudi Arabia and has focused on his management experience and his desire to develop goals and performance metrics to measure progress if selected the next Director-General.
That is a very different profile than that of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria. While Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has some private sector experience, she is a development economist with deep experience at the World Bank and as Finance Minister for Nigeria who focuses on her political experience, ability to work with various multilateral and UN organizations to achieve coordinated actions for developing and least-developed countries and being able to bring “fresh eyes” to the problems of the WTO. She has a reputation as a reformer.
A number of the candidates have depth of GATT/WTO experience and/or trade ministry work. Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri was Mexico’s Ambassador to the GATT, went inside the GATT Secretariat to help conclude the Uruguay Round and was one of the first Deputy Directors-General of the WTO and has recent experiences with the Mexican government concluding the USMCA talks with the United States and Canada. His presentation had a very aggressive and active agenda presented with approaches on the Appellate Body and other issues that indicate he would be active as a Director-General in helping Members find solutions through his understanding of the Agreements, their history, and an ability to devise possible alternative approaches to resolve impasses. He is obviously fluent in all three official languages which is an aid in dealing with senior Mission officials and officials in capitals for many countries.
Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh similarly has very long experience at the GATT and WTO, first as a negotiator for Egypt and then as part of the WTO Secretariat where he served as Director of Services and Investment. He has significant technical expertise and views himself as having a history of being a trusted advisor to all WTO Members which is different from others who have more government specific experience. While he hasn’t filled senior political positions in the Egyptian government, he notes that political leadership, which is important for the Director-General position, is not the same as ministerial leadership experience.
Minister Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya touted her extensive experience both at the WTO where she was Ambassador for Kenya to the WTO including chairing the three major bodies (General Council, Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body) and her role as Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister which included her chairing the 10th WTO Ministerial in Nairobi and achieving a series of breakthroughs on negotiations including an amendment to the TRIPS Agreement, expansion of the Information Technology Agreement and delivering an agreement on agriculture export subsidies to highlight her ability to build consensus should she be selected as the next Director-General.
Mr. Tudor Ulianovschi from Moldova similarly had served both as his country’s Ambassador to the WTO and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He presented himself as having political leadership experience and an understanding of current WTO challenges and having interfaced with governments around the world. As Moldova is neutral on many issues before major trading partners, Mr. Ulianovschi views he can be the honest broker and viewed as such by Members. He can handle the political and technical elements of the job and references his sixteen years of experience with Moldova’s government.
H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of Korea has spent twenty-five years in international trade for her government and is the first female Minister for Trade. While she has not served in Geneva in her country’s mission, she has engaged extensively in trade negotiations with countries at all levels of economic development and knows what is needed to conclude negotiations. The fact that she has experienced Korea’s change in economic status over the years helps her understand issues and needs of WTO Members at different economic levels of development.
Finally, Dr. Liam Fox of the United Kingdom believes the next Director-General needs to have political skills, not be a technocrat. He has been in the UK Parliament for several decades and has served in two different administrations (Secretary of State for Defence; Secretary of State for Trade). While he hasn’t served at the WTO, he is a strong supporter of free trade. He believes the WTO needs to recommit to the fundamental principles of most favoured nation, national treatment and transparency of commitment as part of the next Ministerial Conference in 2021. He also cautions that now is not the time for an incoming Director-General to overcommit on anticipated results.
There are factors that may influence some Members — geographical diversity, gender of candidate, whether the candidate is from a developed or developing country. In my last post, I provided a chart that graphed these and some other factors. See WTO Director-General selection process – this week candidates meet WTO Members in a General Council Meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/14/wto-director-general-selection-process-the-week-candidates-meet-wto-members-in-a-general-council-meeting/.
On geographical diversity, there has never been a Director-General from an African country (three candidates – Nigeria, Egypt and Kenya), from an Arab country (Saudi Arabia, Egypt), from North America (Mexico).
On gender, there has never been a Director-General who was female. There are three candidates who are female in this selection process (Nigeria, Korea, Kenya).
On developed vs. developing country, there are two countries that are “developed” at the WTO (United Kingdom, Moldova). In my prior chart, Moldova had been listed as developing, flowing from the fact that in their trade policy review, it was indicated that Moldova is eligible for generalized system of preference benefits from a number of countries (GSP is intended to benefit developing countries). See Trade Policy Review, Report by the Secretariat, Republic of Moldova, WT/TPR/S/323 (14 September 2015) at 31, para. 3.24, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s323_e.pdf. Saudi Arabia was included in the chart as a developing country, despite being a high income country in the World Bank’s terminology, because the Saudi Arabia trade policy review indicates Saudi Arabia is a member of the Informal Group of Developing Countries. See Trade Policy Review, Report by the Secretariat, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, WT/TPR/S/333 (29 Feb. 2016) at 22, para. 2.20, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s333_e.pdf.
If WTO Members are looking for positions of candidates on particular issues, candidates were typically careful not to go in one direction or another where there are known differences in the position of Members. For example, on the question of the Appellate Body reform, candidates recognized the need to address both the concerns of the United States and the concerns of other Members to have the WTO Appellate Body reinstated in their prepared statements and were certainly asked questions both by the General Council and during the press conferences. Some, like Dr. Jesus Seade, had some broader ideas on how to resolve the Appellate Body issue without indicating what the resolution would look like. Others like Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh believed it would be possible to move forward from the work already done. Some like Dr. Liam Fox suggested that without resolution there was no dispute settlement, which is a sentiment that at least the United States would disagree with. Several were asked about the interim arrangement entered into by the EU, China, Canada and some 19 others. All who addressed the issue accepted the arrangement as interim only and not intended to replace the Appellate Body and focused on obtaining a solution to the impasse on the Appellate Body.
Similarly, many candidates were asked about the question of classification of countries as developing for special and differential treatment. Minister Yoo of Korea noted that Korea had decided that its economic development permitted it to accept higher levels of commitments and thought that was useful for countries who felt they could do so. But she recognized that it was a sensitive issue on which there was no consensus. Dr. Seade felt a more productive approach to the issue would be to look at whether any given country needed special and differential treatment on a product or sector basis in new agreements versus tackling what he viewed was a theological issue – country classification. Others deferred to what Members thought or wanted to pursue.
While all candidates talked extensively about reform, none can fairly be said to have embraced the U.S. call for broad-ranging reform of the existing organization and agreements. Nor did any candidate publicly indicate that the WTO did not address many of the practices of China which operates under a different economic system than most of WTO members, another issue viewed as important by USTR Lighthizer for candidates to recognize.
To sum up, the candidates are in the early days of their outreach to get better known by Members. The appearances before the General Council and the press conferences afterward provide a better understanding of their visions for the WTO and what the candidates believe they bring to the table. The next 51 days til September 8 will undoubtedly be an exhausting time for each candidate as outreach continues around the world. We wish all of the candidates success in their outreach efforts these next fifty-one days.
The immediate task for the General Council will be selecting an acting Director-General from the four existing Deputy Directors-General. It is not clear if this will be accomplished at this week’s General Council meeting on July 22 and 23, or if this week’s meeting will simply represent the start of the process.
What follows are summaries of prepared statements and of the press conferences held July 15-17, 2020
Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico)
Dr. Seade was the first candidate nominated and so was the first before the General Council and the first to have a press conference after the meeting with the General Council. His statement to the General Council was the only one presented in all three of the official languages of the WTO with the first part in Spanish, the middle section in French and the last part in English.
Dr. Seade reviews his unique history with the GATT and WTO, having been Mexico’s Ambassador to the GATT during the Uruguay Round, part of the GATT Secretariat during the period that Peter Sutherland was Director-General working to conclude the Uruguay Round, and his role as one of the first Deputy Directors-General of the WTO when the WTO launched in 1995. The GATT and WTO have accomplished a lot in terms of expanding global trade and economic development over roughly three quarters of a century. The WTO provided needed stability during the 2008 financial crisis and is continuing to do so now during the COVID-19 pandemic. And the WTO has had some recent successes in terms of completing the trade facilitation agreement and agreeing to the elimination of agricultural export subsidies by some countries. Nonetheless, the WTO’s performance has not lived up to the initial high expectations of Members.
The WTO has the twin problems of limited results from negotiations and the paralysis of the Appellate Body. These problems are being exacerbated by the enormous negative effects of COVID-19 on trade. Key to restoring the role of the organization is to restore the negotiating function, restore a two stage dispute settlement system and start discussions to make the WTO more efficient, transparent and inclusive. On negotiations, the WTO needs to address issues currently being addressed, issues relevant to 21st century trade, and traditional issues where progress has not been made.
Dr. Seade presented a three-stage program for action:
- In the first 100 days, work with Members to (a) complete a fisheries subsidies agreement, (b) restore the Appellate Body, (c) work to reverse negative views of WTO and its ability to fulfill its mandate and (d) work with Members on the COVID-19 crisis both to increase transparency and address trade restrictions introduced.
- By the Ministerial Conference to be held in 2021, help Members achieve results (a) in joint initiatives and (b) on issues that will make WTO more transparent and effective, and establish a work program on issues where negotiations have been suspended.
- In the medium and longer term, work with Members to identify weaknesses in the organization and pursue modifications to strengthen the organization, take up traditional priority issues on the sustainable development agenda. Also ensure a high quality and effective Secretariat. Finally, address issues important to society, including those related to the environment, gender, MSMEs, etc.
Dr. Seade indicated that he possesses not only vision, leadership and political capacity but also an understanding of the trade agreements and the sensitivities behind the agreements. These are qualities he believes the next Director-General will need.
During the press conference, Dr. Seade provided a short opening statement which basically reviewed his special role in the creation of the WTO and his other positions. He noted that trade is very transformative for countries to help development and lift people out of poverty. He then reviewed the serious crisis at the WTO and why he has been put forward as a candidate.
Dr. Seade was asked many questions some of which sought information that is reflected in his prepared statement. Dr. Seade was asked why Members should choose him, how he would help Members address the Appellate Body impasse, what did he think of the interim arbitration arrangement entered into by a number of Members while the Appellate Body is not functioning, what is the most pressing challenge at the WTO, which Members were supporting his candidacy, what will the effect of the U.S. election be on the Director-General selection process and what Dr. Seade thinks of the issue of classification of Members as developed or developing. He was also asked questions about regional diversity and gender for the next Director-General noting Mexico is part of Latin America, the area where the current Director-General is also from, versus candidates from Africa or the Middle East which have never had a Director-General. Similarly, the GATT and WTO have had Directors-General all of whom have been male. The current field of eight candidates includes three women; isn’t it time for a woman to be Director-General?
Dr. Seade reviewed the capabilities he believes the next Director-General needs. While he wouldn’t make a comparison to other candidates, he felt that he had the capabilities in fact needed. His job as Director-General would be to come up with alternative ideas to help Members find solutions. He has that ability.
On the question of the Appellate Body impasse, Dr. Seade noted that none of the Members were denouncing any provision within the Dispute Settlement Understanding. Rather concerns had been voiced on how DSU provisions had been applied. Dr. Seade believes that what is missing is the way to operationalize the role of the Dispute Settlement Body (all WTO Members sitting as the DSB) which is organizationally above the Appellate Body but for which there are currently no procedures for communications from the DSB to the Appellate Body to address issues generally (vs. in specific disputes). Such procedures were needed. He also had other ideas for how to resolve the impasse that he was interested in reviewing with Members to see if there could be movement. On the question of the interim arbitration arrangement, Dr. Seade thought a temporary arrangement made sense as it provided Members a second stage to dispute settlement as provided in the DSU. Key is finding a solution to the impasse so the two-tier dispute settlement system is restored for all.
On the question of the major problem with the WTO, Dr. Seade identified two problems — the inability to negotiate and dispute settlement, although dispute settlement largely flows from the inability to negotiate. Because the nature of the world has changed so profoundly over the years, there are new issues and new actors. Where Members can’t negotiate new issues, there is enormous pressure put on the dispute settlement system to find solutions. The inability to negotiate is spurred on by an enormous lack of trust between Members. The issue of lack of trust needs to be addressed.
On the issue of support, he noted that obviously many Members want to meet all candidates as they consider who they will support. He has done extensive outreach already to many Members and believes those outreach efforts have generally been well received. While he has some Members who have indicated they will support his candidacy (about a half dozen), only two are public — Argentina and Bolivia. He did not view it as appropriate to mention other Members where support was not public. He was hopeful of obtaining support from all parts of the world including in North America.
On the question of the effect of the U.S. Presidential election in November on the Director-General selection process, Dr. Seade said that both parties in the United States have been critical of the WTO in various respects. So regardless of the election outcome, the WTO will need to address U.S. concerns. The key is to make the Director-General selection as soon as possible. This is because of the need to get working ahead of the Ministerial Conference which will be next year, but there is pent-up demand on issues since the last Ministerial was four years ago. While the schedule for the selection of the next Director-General could run to early November, he hopes it will be handled more quickly by Members.
On the question of developed vs. developing country, Dr. Seade looks at it from the perspective of special and differential treatment. On the one hand the world keeps changing, so it’s reasonable to ask what a Member can do. The idea of changing classification of countries from developing to developed will take a very long time and so is probably the wrong approach. The question should be what contribution can a particular member make, which may be different in different industries.
On the questions of geographical diversity and gender, Dr. Seade reviewed that Members will be making the selection. He believes the correct course is for Members to pick the individual best qualified for this particular time. He believes that he is that person.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala (Nigeria)
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her prepared statement includes sincere condolences for all who have lost a family member from COVID-19 in French. Later in her statement, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala includes a phrase from her native igbo language, and she gives thank yous in six languages. The main part of her statement is in English. Her statement reviews her record at the World Bank, her time as Finance Minister in Nigeria and her role as Chair of Gavi to stress her ability to achieve reform and to work with other multilateral organizations and her focus on the needs of development and the role trade plays in development.
Looking at the challenges confronting the WTO, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala flags a negotiating function that is underperforming “at a time when its rule book would greatly benefit from an update to 21st century issues such as e-commerce and the digital economy, the green and circular economies. Issues of women and trade and Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are import to ensure greater inclusion.” (pages 2-3). Other challenges include improving transparency and notifications, improving the functioning of the regular WTO bodies and strengthening the Secretariat. There are important differences on issues such as SOEs and agricultural subsidies amongst Members and increased trade tensions.
These problems are exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis which have resulted in export restraints by some and stimulus packages which may “undermine WTO commitments by distorting production and trade.” (page 4).
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala reviewed why she believes she is the person to be the next Director-General:
- She is a strong believer in the role of trade and of the multilateral trading system to bring shared prosperity. She brings a “fresh pair of eyes to the WTO’s challenges.”
- Need to build trust. Not a question of technical expertise but rather political will/solutions.
- She has a proven track record in carrying out successful reforms which is what will be needed at the WTO going forward.
After reviewing the range of pending issues before the WTO that need to be completed or addressed, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala reviews the need to work closely with other multilateral organizations and the UN and her ability to improve cooperation with these other entities.
“The rules-based MTS is a public good that underpins peace, security, stability and a chance for prosperity in the world. Every effort should therefore be made to safeguard, improve and renew it to enable it effectively address the challenges of the 21st century.” (Page 11)
During the press conference, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala provided her short statement and then received a large number of questions. Her short statement was that trade is important for the 21st century, for prosperity, resilience and growth. The WTO is at the center of global trade.
She was asked about whether three candidates from Africa hurt her chances to be selected, what she views as the role of the Director-General, how she views the question of fair trade particularly between north and south, what she believes is achievable in terms of deliverables by the next WTO Ministerial Conference in 2021, what she would say to the U.S. President on why the U.S. should stay in the WTO, what the WTO can do to ensure that small and micro-businesses survive the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, what her selection as the next Director-General would mean for women in Nigeria, if selected the next Director-General what would she do to ensure availability of medical supplies to all countries, and whether her perceived lack of a trade background was a handicap in the competition to become the next Director-General.
Her response on the question about multiple candidates from Africa was that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala viewed that it was a positive that there were three qualified candidates from Africa and not a problem. It is up to the Members to select from all of the candidates, a process which should focus on who is the best candidate. If from Africa, great.
On the question of the role of the Director-General, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala views the role to be working with Members to help them reach consensus. It is important that starting with the next Ministerial, the WTO show movement to achieve results.
On the question of fair trade, particularly between north and south, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala noted that the WTO’s role is to support all members to take advantage of fair and open trade. Where the South is getting fewer benefits from global trade, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would use the instruments available to the WTO Director-General (e.g., Aid for Trade, working with other multilateral organizations) to get resources to South Members to improve their position in international trade.
On the question of what is achievable by the next Ministerial in 2021 and whether it is best to go after issues one at a time or in a larger grouping, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala indicated that she hoped the WTO Membership would make a decision soon on who should be Director-General so whoever is selected has more time before the next Ministerial. But even if a decision is not made until November 2020, there are some areas that could be ready by the next Ministerial. For example, a fisheries subsidies agreement should be achievable. There was a lot of discussion in the General Council on trust and building trust to move negotiations along. Trust is obviously an important issue. So the WTO may need to sequence issues to build trust by achieving a win or two. Once there are some successes, it should be possible to handle more issues in parallel.
On the question of why the U.S. should stay in the WTO, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would communicate that the WTO delivers for all Members. The GATT and WTO have provided shared prosperity which has lifted millions out of poverty. Where the trading system is not working, Members need to fix the problems. Peace, security and stability are needed now just as they have been over the last decades. These are what the WTO rules-based system provides. If we didn’t have the WTO, we would need to invent it.
On the question of MSMEs, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala noted that they are very important globally but are being harmed by COVID-19 fallout. How to ensure MSMEs survive and get such entities better included in the global trading system is a matter of great interest to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. There is a great need to facilitate provision of additional resources to help these entities. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would work with other multilateral organizations to help facilitate assistance.
On the question of what will her getting selected Director-General of the WTO would mean for women in Nigeria, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala noted that women not just in Nigeria but around the world are ready for greater roles. But Dr. Okonjo-Iweala reiterated that selection of the WTO Director-General should be based on merit–if a woman, great; if from Africa, great.
On the question of what she would do as Director-General to ensure smooth trade of medical goods including therapeutics and vaccines, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala indicated that she would use the knowledge she has from the chair of GAVI and working with other groups and organizations to ensure that the WTO did its part to ensure equitable and afforadable access to any vaccines developed to address COVID-19. There should be no barriers to access to the medicines/vaccines while honoring intellectual property rights. It is critical that everyone have access to lifesaving medicines at the same time and at affordable prices.
On the question of whether the consensus rule at the WTO should be gotten rid of to overcome gridlock, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala responded that part of the strength of WTO is that agreements are reached by consensus. Where all sovereign states agree to a text, they are more likely to implement the provisions. The real question is how to make consensus better. In Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s view, the underlying problem with the current consensus system is the lack of trust among the Members. Thus, there is an urgent need to rebuild trust. To rebuild trust, the WTO needs confidence building measures, i.e., obtaining wins in achieving new agreements. That will show that consensus can and does work.
The question on what Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would do as Director-General to see that an agreement on e-commerce was pursued was answered by noting that there was extensive work being done plurilaterally by many Members as one of a number of joint statement initiatives. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala agrees that an agreement on e-commerce is very important, but she notes that there is a digital divide where many poorer countries don’t have the infrastructure to take advantage of e-commerce. The WTO, working with other multilateral organizations, needs to see that resources are put together to help countries address the digital divide. Once the digital divide is addressed, all Members should want to and be able to participate in the e-commerce negotiations, so that the agreement becomes a multilateral one.
On the question of whether her career in finance is a handicap for a trade position, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala disagrees with the premise as her career has always involved trade as a development economist and also as finance minister where Customs was part of her responsibilities.
Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt)
Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh is the one candidate with extensive WTO Secretariat experience (27 years), junior negotiating experience for Egypt during the Uruguay Round, but no Minister or Ambassador experience on his biography. His prepared statement concurs that the WTO needs reform, an updated rulebook for the 21st century and a Director-General with political leadership though he indicates political leadership doesn’t require or mean ministerial leadership. That said, Mr. Mamdouh indicates that a core problem is that the consensus or common purpose of the WTO has faded for many and to get that common purpose back, the WTO needs a different type of leadership, one that he is positioned to provide.
“In my view, over the past quarter of a century, the WTO has suffered from a chronic imbalance across all its vital functions. That is, dispute settlement, negotiation, and the transparency/deliberative functions
“In any legal system, there needs to be a balance between the ‘legislative’ and the ‘judicial’ functions. For the WTO, these are the negotiating and the dispute settlement functions. While dispute settlement gained strength due to the inherent automaticity of procedures, the negotiating function has broken down. This created an unsustainable imbalance.” (Page 3)
As international trade has evolved, the rules of trade have not done so which has added to imbalance through use of dispute settlement to address matters where no rules exist. Similarly, where transparency and notifications are not robust, Members don’t have the necessary information to confirm compliance, and that can lead to additional disputes.
“A deeper look into the root causes of this imbalance would reveal that there are three cross-cutting phenomena that hinder the functioning of the WTO: leadership deficit, increasing complexity of trade policy and negotiating issues, and a fading vision of the common purpose behind the system. Over time, these phenomena lead to the unsustainable imbalance across the vital functions.” (Page 4)
Reform of the WTO can only occur through negotiations. For the 12th Ministerial Conference to be held in 2021, the WTO needs to agree on a reform agenda and to “achieve concrete progress on issues currently under negotiation”. (Page 5) Fisheries subsidies, Joint Statement Initiatives on e-commerce, domestic regulation in services, MSMEs and investment facilitation along with backlog issues all need to be considered.
The next DG needs “authoritative knowledge of the system and long experience with its functioning” and “trust of Members in his or her impartiality”. (page 7). Mr. Mamdouh believes he is the best candidate to be the next Director-General.
During the press conference, Mr. Mamdouh responded to a wide range of questions (see below) following his opening statement. In his opening statement, Mr. Mamdouh indicated that he had reviewed with the General Council why he was running as a candidate and what he would do as Director-General. He touted his 35 years of experience and participation in the Uruguay Round. He reviewed why he perceives the organization in crisis, the root cause being the imbalance among the three legs of the system — negotiations, dispute settlement, transparency/notifications. He also talked about how to fix the problems and the differences between other organizations’ reform and that of the WTO where reform involves modifying the agreements.
On the question of whether the General Council had concerns with Mr. Mamdouh’s background (no position as minister or ambassador) and role of the Director-General, Mr. Mamdouh indicated that he hadn’t sensed any concern among the Members. In his view, ministers take national perspective, while the role of the Director-General is to be a facilitator and honest broker which requires independence. His background is exactly that. While Mr. Mamdouh agreed that political leadership is required for the next Director-General, political leadership is not synoamous with ministerial leadership.
On the question of his vision for fixing the WTO and his strategy for doing so, Mr. Mamdouh indicated that he believed the WTO Members needed to develop a sense of common purpose. His strategy would begin with reviving the negotiation function. The Director-General will need fact- based knowledge to help Members find solutions.
On the question of running against two other African candidates and whether it will make it harder to win, Mr. Mamdouh answered that it was the position of the Egyptian government that the Egyptian candidate is the only candidate who has been endorsed by the African Union through its process. Candidates from Nigeria and Kenya have not passed through the process established by the African Union.
Mr. Mamdouh was asked about whether changes were needed in the interaction between the WTO Secretariat and Members. Mr. Mamdouh responded that the WTO has a body of great expertise within the Secretariat that could be better utilized. The expertise needs to be put at the disposal of the membership; information from the Secretariat staff is provided to Members in negotiations, to panels in dispute settlement and in committees. Mr. Mamdouh wants to bring the role of the Secretariat back to where it was in the past.
Mr. Mamdouh was asked if there is an Egyptian vision that makes him unique as a candidate. He was also asked if he didn’t think it was time for a woman to lead the WTO. Mr. Mamdouh stated that his Egyptian perspective is that of a Egyptian negotiator struggling to navigate the challenges within the GATT and then deal with the new issues within the Uruguay Round (services, IP). Thus, he understands what negotiators from developing and LDCs face to effectively participate with new issues. On the question of when it is time for a woman to lead the WTO, Mr. Mamdouh indicated that any time is the right time. He believes in gender equality. But gender shouldn’t be the primary criteria in selecting a Director-General.
Mr. Mamdouh was asked a question based on his role in the GATS negotiations as to what is key to building consensus. Mr. Mamdouh believes that the key to building consensus is to mobilize support for the common purpose. Conversely, while consensus is the golden rule in how the WTO functions, Members shouldn’t impose a requirement of consensus where it is not required. If one follow these two approaches, one facilitates achieving consensus.
A question was asked on what should be the role of the US and China in the new WTO. Mr. Mamdouh responded that the role of these two Members is to engage in the WTO. Start from the point that bilateral disputes should be resolved in the WTO. Since we all believe in the multilateral process, must keep in mind that bilateral disputes and solutions have effects on others. Moreover, bilateral solutions are less likely to be disciplined and are likely to be short lived.
Asked what he would do to revive the Appellate Body, Mr. Mamdouh responded that he would build off of the work already done. Most logical and productive first step is to build on that work and see what else is needed. And there is a need to look deeper into causes which he believes are rooted in differences in legal and regulatory systems. Mr. Mamdouh has not heard any suggestions that rules within the Dispute Settlement Understanding need to be changed. He concluded by saying that the size of the problem needs to be put into perspective and one needs to remember that on this issue, the WTO Members are not starting from zero.
A question was asked on globalization, whether the golden age of globalization had passed, the challenges of new protectionism and what he would do to restore the golden age of globalization. Mr. Mamdouh indicated that he believes globalization has been in transition for a while. The challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic merely highlight some challenges and possible changes. Globalization won’t go away. Problems seen during COVID-19 relate to medical products and agricultural products. Problems with supply chains have to do with disruption. If trying to deal with resilience, solution may lie with diversification of supply vs. onshoring. Globalization is restructuring but not going away (supply closer to demand). Will continue to evolve but won’t disappear.
On the question of what is the top challenge facing the WTO and his priority actions to address, Mr. Mamdouh indicated that the top challenge is the failing sense of purpose within the membership. What he would prioritize would be working to revive the sense of common purpose.
Mr. Mamdouh was asked if there will be enough time to prepare for the next Ministerial to have positive agenda/outcome. He answered that if the selection process concludes before November, there should be sufficient time. In his view, the next Ministerial needs to be a turning point for the WTO. At MC12, the WTO must have a clear agenda for reform. There is not currently a mainstream focus on reform; issues are being raised ad hoc. Second, the WTO needs to score successes – fisheries subsidies and progress on joint statement initiatives.
Tudor Ulianovschi (Republic of Moldova)
Mr. Ulianovschi was the first candidate who met with the General Council on Thursday, July 16. He reviewed his time as the Moldovan Ambassador to the WTO and as Moldova’s Foreign Minister and his overall diplomatic and political career that spanned more than sixteen years.
He articulated his vision for the WTO if selected as the next Director-General as being
“a 3D vision and approach:
“First D is Direct Access to Ministers and political decision makers — in my capacity as a recent Minister dealing with Ministers.
“Second D is Dialogue and discussions with Geneva based Ambassadors — in my capacity as former Ambassador to the WTO — I was in your shoes and fully understand the process of work, its challenges and the potential efficient and effective solutions.
“Third D is Driving the work of the WTO Management and Secretariat, so it can better and more efficiently serve Members’ needs and continue bringing its contribution to a better system for all Members.” (Pages 2-3)
There is a need to strengthen the system by reinvigorating the negotiation function, safeguarding and improving the WTO’s two-tiered dispute settlement system, and improving compliance with notification obligations. (Pages 2-3). Incremental progress on negotiations is what is achievable.
Immediate priorities for the next Director-General include eight items, the first four of which are getting the Appellate Body reactivated, achieving resolution to the fisheries subsidies negotiations, addressing joint initiative issue (e-commerce, investment facilitation for development, domestic services regulations, MSMEs), and facilitating dialogue on other ongoing issues.
Mr.Ulianovschi provided separate discussions on dispute settlement and on COVID-19. On the latter issue, transparency of government action is crucial for traders. Members should limit export restraints and remove as soon as the situation permits. The WTO needs to continue working with other international organizations to analyze the effect of COVID-19 on agricultural supplies, supply chains as well as how to help economic recovery, particularly for developing and least developed countries.
During the press conference, Mr. Ulianovschi provided a short introductory statement and then responded to a variety of questions. His short statement reviewed his presentation to the General Council. He believes that the WTO must show its relevance, and that the WTO needs reform to restore relevance. The WTO’s negotiating function is key to achieving this and helping restore the negotiating function would be his top priority as Director-General. The second priority is to reactive the Appellate Body. Third, is improving transparency and the monitoring function of the WTO. Mr. Ulianovschi brings to the table as a candidate his experience as a former Ambassador to the WTO and as a former Minister.
On the question of how he would use the role of Director-General to ease tensions between U.S. and China, Mr. Ulianovschi responded that this topic had been discussed with Members during his meeting with the General Council. In his view, the role of the Director-General is to be an honest broker between WTO Members. The Director-General must be able to listen to concerns with a view to using his offices to engage Members involved in a dialogue process. At same time, the Director-General is not there to impose solution but to listen and raise awareness of the impact of actions on the larger organization and to mitigate harm to others. The next Director-General needs to engage in talks both in Geneva and in capitals and see that any outreach is transparent and inclusive.
There were several questions on the Appellate Body including how Mr. Ulianovschi would reactivate the Appellate Body and whether reform of the dispute settlement system should be broader than getting the Appellate Body back functioning. Mr. Ulianovschi indicated that on the provisions of the Dispute Settlement Understanding, all Members agree on the provisions as written. With the application of the DSU by the AB, there are concerns raised by the U.S. and others. The Director-General can provide a process to help Member’s discuss. Solutions to the concerns raised need to be found, but the parameters of the solutions need to be found by members themselves. In his view, the Director-General’s role is to help Members identify how to move forward on the Appellate Body impasse with resolution by the next Ministerial Conference. On the question of breadth of action on the dispute settlement system, Mr. Ulianovschi stated that Members are not looking for a complete redrafting of the Dispute Settlement Understanding. What is needed is a targeted approach to address issues raised by certain members on the operation of the Appellate Body.
Mr. Ulianovschi was asked a question of how he, if selected as the next Director-General, would withstand the political pressure being young and from a very small country. Mr. Ulianovschi noted that as a candidate he speaks in his individual capacity not in his country’s capacity. Key criteria should be competence, experience and political profile, not age or size of country the candidate is from. He has the relevant experiences to be the next Director-General. The WTO needs a person who understands the issues but also has the political experience and networking to help members to get things done. As to age, Mr. Ulianovschi has plenty of experience negotiating agreements. He has the right resilience, tenacity, ability to listen and political will to get things done.
A question was asked of what sets Mr. Ulianovschi apart from other candidates. His response was that at the end of the day, it is for Members to decide which candidate best meets their needs. All of the eight candidates have extensive backgrounds. Believes he has a good 3-D approach which will benefit members.
On the COVID-19 crisis, Mr. Ulianovschi was asked how the pandemic will impact the WTO. His response was that COVID-19 is a wakeup call to WTO and its Members. The pandemic is having major negative effects on trade and economic growth around the world. Some WTO Members have imposed export restraints and pursuant to WTO requirements have generally notified such restraints. While all Members are affected by the pandemic, there have been significant effects on those least able to handle the negative effects, particularly LDCs. There is a need to expand capacity to help such Members. As Director-General he would work with other organizations to have a unified approach on how to address COVID-19 challenges through trade to the benefit of all people.
Mr. Ulianovschi was asked whether considering that Moldova was a small country that is not a powerhouse in trade, there were experiences from his country in post-Soviet times that would inform his handling the role of Director-General. Mr. Ulianovschi answered that when Moldova joined the WTO in 2001, it joined as a developed country and made the commitments expected of a developed member. Trade is important for Moldova and is for all WTO Members. Moldova has had a neutral role in many of the issues at the WTO. Thus, coming from Moldova enhances Mr. Ulianovschi’s background for being an honest broker if selected as the next Director-General. On size of country, Members should be evaluating the experience of the candidate versus the size of the country.
A question was asked whether the consensus rule at the WTO should be changed to reduce the paralysis. Mr. Ulianovschi responded that the consensus rule was decided by Members. Consensus decision making is one of the elements of the WTO that helps members remember the greater goods and need to consider partners’ needs. Process doesn’t work well all the time. The Director-General can help facilitate Members moving forward and achieving consensus. While there are different formats at the WTO (multilateral and plurilateral), at the end, it is important that basic principles are respected. Consensus is a cornerstone of the WTO.
The last question asked was about getting the WTO out of crisis; in particular, what is the core factor causing the crisis and how would Mr. Ulianovschi address the factor if he was selected as Director-General. Mr. Ulianovschi answered that this is an existential question for the WTO. First priority, in his view, to get out of the crisis is for there to be trust among Members. The role of the Director-General is to enhance feeling of trust through confidence building steps. Many issues which have been unresolved for a long time have undermined trust. Joint initiative statement issues are advancing and give hope that the organization is relevant and can deliver. This is a good sign that there is a common purpose among the Members.
H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea)
The Korean candidate has spent twenty-five years in international trade and presently serves as Korea’s Minister for Trade.
“My 25 year career in international trade has taught me that solid ground- work is the basis of an agreement, and political will is what closes the deal. I have dealt with both the technical details of agreements, as well as engaged in finalizing major trade agreements as Trade Minister. I believe my extensive experience and expertise will enable me to offer insights and creative solutions to restore and revitalize the WTO.” Page 1
Minister Yoo reviewed the nature of the challenges facing the WTO at the present time:
“We are now witnessing the threat of growing protectionism, and heightened trade tensions. Technological advances are transforming the way we produce, deliver, and consume goods and services in ways never imagined when the WTO was created. The global crisis induced by the pandemic is challenging the WTO’s purpose of ensuring the smooth flow of goods and services.
“The WTO, which was intended to provide predictability and stability in these times of turbulence, is now facing a trust deficit with all three pillars under stress.
“Despite much good will and hard work, the record of negotiations in the WTO leaves much room to be desired. There has been progress, such as the adoption of the Bali and the Nairobi packages including the Trade Facilitation Agreement, but we need to do much more to meet the challenges and realities of the 21st century. The stagnant negotiations have had negative consequences for all of the WTO’s functions, and, to some extent, contributed to the current problems facing the dispute settlement system.” (page 2)
Minister Yoo’s vision for the WTO “is to make the WTO more relevant, resilient and responsive.” (Page 2)
“The WTO needs to keep evolving to become more relevant to changing economic circumstance and realities. The WTO needs to enhance sustainability and inclusiveness to remain resilient as a champion of open trade for the next 25 years and beyond. And the WTO needs to be more responsive to global challenges and contingencies for the benefit of all of its Members.” (Page 2)
In terms of tasks should she become the next Director-General, Minister Yoo lists the first priority as the next Ministerial Conference (MC12). The second priority is WTO reform and the third is inclusive trade and sustainable development.
For the MC12, achieving an agreement on fisheries subsidies by the conference is critical. Significant progress towards a plurilateral electronic commerce agreement is another achievable objective by MC12. Progress on development issues is also critical, particularly on issues important to developing and least developed countries to help survive and come back from the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the issue of WTO reform, Minister Yoo separates the topic into three areas – updating “the rule-books and delivering agreements with real economic impact”; “restoring the dispute settlement system”; and “implementation of agreements and increased transparency.” (Page 3)
The third area, inclusive trade and sustainable development is described as follows by Minister Yoo:
“WTO reform should not be a goal in and of itself, but an instrument to promote economic prosperity and better living standards for all of its Members. To this end, the WTO should pursue inclusive trade initiatives encompassing overall development issues, as well as specific, cross-cutting issues such as MSMEs, women’s economic empowerment, and environment.
“Among others, we should deepen our efforts to help developing countries, especially LDCs, secure a larger share in the growth in international trade. We should fully implement what has been agreed for LDCs and strengthen our technical assistance and capacity building programs. Further, while maintaining a central role for the WTO in seeking these important values, I will support cooperation with other international organizations in a proactive and forthcoming manner. This will help broaden the available resources and multilateral commitment to achieving Members’ goals.” (pages 3-4)
Minister Yoo’s prepared statement to the General Council concludes with a section on how she sees the role of the Director-General — bringing optimism, having a vision based on realism, helping rebuild trust in the Organization. “[T]he Director-General has to be an effective, trusted, and informed facilitator and a person who knows how and when to act to help achieve consensus and agreement.” (Page 4)
At the press conference, Minister Yoo provided a short statement which was followed by a range of questions. In her short statement, Minister Yoo stated that the WTO is at a crossroads. Her vision is to make the WTO more relevant, resilient and responsive (as reviewed in her prepared statement). She brings her 25 years experience to the job.
The first question asked that since Korea was one of the countries who agreed to export limits to avoid steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the U.S., what thoughts did Minister Yoo have on voluntary export restraints (VERs) under the WTO. Minister Yoo responded that VERs are banned by the WTO. But the current situation is different as US has taken action pursuant to national security provisions, and Korea was addressing intended actions by U.S. under that law. Cases are before panels challenging U.S. national security action as inconsistent with WTO, so Minister Yoo would not comment on the merits of the cases at this time. While aware of different views on whether national security issues can be challenged at the WTO, since the issue is in front of panels, she would not comment further.
On the issue of The Appellate Bidy impasse, Minister Yoo was asked how she would solve the impasse. She indicated that Members have very divergent views on the role of the Appellate Body. All members understand the need for a two-tier dispute settlement system. If selected as the next Director-General, Minister Yoo would accelerate members’ consultations to resolve the issue.
Minister Yoo was asked how hard it would be to move from Korea’s Minister for Trade to the WTO’s Director-General and whether she would have problems living in Geneva or working for an international organization. Minister Yoo indicated that she believes she is in best position to understand all Members views at the WTO. During her lifetime, Korea has gone through many stages of development, and she has seen trade issues through her country’s experience at different levels of economic development. Because of her diverse experiences at Korea’s different stages of developments, she is in a good position to understand concerns of all countries if selected as the next Director-General. As for living abroad, Minister Yoo was stationed Beijing for 3 years and Singapore for 3 1/2 years. She would have no problem living abroad or working for an international organization.
On the interim arbitration mechanism adopted by the EU, China and about 20 other Members, Korea is not a party. Does Minister Yoo have any concerns that the interim arrangement (MPIA) might become permanent? Minister Yoo responded that the MPIA was being used by some Members to overcome the current vacuum with the Appellate Bid shut down. The key for the WTO is to focus on finding a permanent solution, and she would do that if selected as the next Director-General.
A question was asked how Minister Yoo viewed the question of the status of Members as developed or developing countries particularly in light of Korea viewing itself as a developing country in the WTO although Korea has indicated it will not seek additional special and differential treatment under future WTO Agreements. Minister Yoo started her response by noting that the Marrakesh Agreement requires that the WTO work to help developing and least developed countries LDC countries secure their fair share of trade. There are competing issues at the WTO. Should the WTO make special and differential treatment provisions more operational in existing Agreements is one issue. Should the WTO change the classification status of some countries based on economic development is the other issue. For Korea, the. world has changed, and countries have changed in terms of their stage of economic development. Korea decided to take on more responsibility based on its changing level of economic development. But many countries continue to need special and differential treatment. It would be ideal for developing countries to take on more responsibilities as they are able. But this a sensitive issue on which there is no consensus as yet.
A question was asked as to how Minister Yoo would restore trust if selected as the next Director-General. Minister Yoo noted her experience in negotiating trade deals with all level of countries around the world. She knows what it takes to negotiate and what it takes to bring negotiations to a close. She is confident that she can earn confidence from Members and achieve tangible outcomes. The key is to obtain even a small success at the MC12 (e.g., fisheries subsidies agreement by then) which would help build trust and convince world that progress can happen at the WTO.
Minister Yoo was asked if in a consensus system, she could gain the support of Japan for her candidacy considering she had led Korea’s dispute with Japan on semiconductor materials. Minister Yoo remarked that she is here as a candidate in her own capacity and not as part of the Korean government. She would not comment on the ongoing dispute between Japan and Korea. She did note that Japan and Korea work closely on many issues at the WTO, and both are strong supporters of the multilateral trading system. Therefore, she is confident that Japan will look at all candidates and decide which has the best qualifications to move the WTO forward.
One questionner indicated he had heard from an analyst that there is some concern that China might block Korea’s candidacy as China might otherwise have to give up its Deputy Director-General slot. Minister Yoo was also asked if it was time for a woman to lead the WTO. Minister Yoo felt it would be inappropriate to comment on the position of other countries, each of whom must make their own decision as to whom to support for the next Director-General. She hadn’t heard about the rumor mentioned. She added that China and Korea have worked closely on many matters. She was in China for three years and has negotiated with China. She would be doing outreach to China and other Members to see how she could work with them if selected as the next Director-General. On gender, for the last 25 years, she has been a pioneer in the Korean government, the first woman to hold her position in trade. Promotion has been based on merit not on gender. The WTO Members should pick the right person to help WTO move forward. All of the women candidates are well qualified. She knows she is well qualified based on her experience.
What does it mean for the WTO to be relevant, and how would you bring on major members who may not agree with the issue being considered? Minister Yoo stated that the WTO needs to revitalize its negotiating function and must be able to enforce its rules (restore AB). Given 21st century realities, WTO needs to update its rule book and to achieve things that can have real global effect such as joint initiative efforts on e-commerce, MSMEs, investments, and other issues. That said, there are open issues from The Doha Development Agenda that are not moving because there are different views on how to move forward. In terms of how you bring members to the negotiating table, part of the answer is to obtain small successes to build trust and momentum.
Amb. Amina C. Mohamed (Republic of Kenya)
Ministrr Mohamed was the last candidate who met with the General Council on Thursday, July 16. She started by outlining what she referred to as “the three main themes of my vision for the WTO: Reform, Recover, Renewal.”
“The WTO needs urgent reforms so it can once again play its full part as an engine of growth, development and stability. Reform is all the more urgent because an effective WTO is needed to help create the conditions for a sustainable recovery from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. And looking further ahead, the WTO needs to renew its capacity to negotiate and to develop new trade rules and disciplines for the challenges of the very near future.” (Pages 2-3)
Minister Mohamed reviewed that the WTO was challenged before COVId-19 with few new agreements since its creation, with increased trade tensions, and with a dispute settlement system that has lost at least temporarily its Appellate Body. The COVID-19 adds huge complications being the largest economic contraction since the Great Depression. Recovery will be a challenge, and there is an urgent need to update the trading system to address the issues of today including “climate change, the digital revolution, poverty and sustainable development.” (page 5)
On the topic of renewal, Minister Mohamed noted that
“Renewal has to start with facing up to the defects that have weakened the system in recent years: the inability to update rules to reflect the changing realities of how trade is conducted; the sterility of ideological standoffs; the retreat into defensiveness; and the sense of the benefits of trade not being equitably shared.” (Page 7)
“Renewal should also build upon the WTO’s core values and achievements. Trade has been transformational. It has helped to lift close to 1 billion people out of poverty and facilitated the attainment of higher living standards in countries at all levels of development. These successes were possible because Members did not see trade as a zero-sum game. They understood that trade-offs were needed to produce outcomes. All Members should contribute to trade opening and facilitation efforts, especially those most in a position to do so.” (Page 7)
While supporting bilateral and regional trade agreements, Minister Mohamed, noted that such agreements are not a substitute for multilateral agreements.
She reviewed the importance of dispute settlement to the system and the need to resolve the existing impasse on the Appellate Body.
“The WTO should give effect to its development objectives in a practical and enabling way, not forgetting its special responsibility towards its most vulnerable Members, particularly least-developed countries. It also needs to play its part in the important task of advancing the economic empower- ment of women through trade.”
Minister Mohamed ended her prepared statement to the General Council by reviewing her qualifications for the job, including her time in Geneva as Ambassador from Kenya, her chairing the top WTO bodies (General Council, Dispute Settlement Body, Trade Policy Review Body), her time as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and heading the 10th Ministerial Conference and her role as a facilitator in helping Members achieve agreements on “the TRIPS amendment, the Expanded Information Technology Agreement and the Nairobi Decision on Export Competition”. (Page 12)
At the press conference, Minister Mohamed made a brief opening statement and was followed by questions. In her opening statement, Minister Mohamed stated that the WTO is being challenged like never before referring to the changing world trade order, limited negotiating success, and breakdown of the appellate body, and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. She then reviewed her vision, the three “r’s” — reform, recovery and renewal. She concluded by reviewing her qualifications for the Director-General.
The first questioner asked what lessons Minister Mohamed had learned from her 2013 run and why she thought that countries that hadn’t supported her then would do so now. Minister Mohamed responded that 2020 is a different time with a different group of candidates. Since 2013, she has had many additional experiences that add to her qualifications and hence help her candidacy. She mentioned in particular her role in chairing the 10th Ministerial and the successes that were achieved including the agriculture export subsidy agreement, expansion of the Information Technology Agreement and amending the TRIPS Agreement. So 2020 is the right time for her candidacy.
One questioner asserted that the agreement on export subsidies was negotiated with a small group and given to the full membership on a take it or leave it basis and asked if this was a correct way to conduct inclusive negotiations. Minister Mohamed stated that the questioner was incorrect in the process used. Negotiations were conducted in different configurations but always went back to the full Membership. If anyone felt left out, they had the ability to block the agreement. That didn’t happen. Nairobi worked extremely well, and is an example of how the negotiations should proceed.
One questioner inquired whether the ongoing FTA negotiations between the US and Kenya was an advantage or disadvantage in her candidacy. Minister Mohamed responded that she didn’t consider it relevant. Obviously, the FTA negotiations are just one of many happening around the world. She is hopeful that the negotiations and eventual agreement will be a model for her region and open to other countries. It should be viewed as very positive.
What would you do differently if you become the next DG? Minister Mohamed responded that she would do a lot differently. She indicated that her experiences are different and her skills are different. With the WTO at a crossroads, there is a great need for an experienced negotiator to come in and lead. The agenda would be established through consultations with Members. She would also hope to focus on the gender issue.
if selected as DG, will you be more engaged in resolving trade tensions between major players? If yes, what tactics would you use? Minister Mohamed reviewed the types of powers that a Director-General has to work with Members. For example, the Director-General has engagement powers and can encourage members to consult, use of good offices of the Director-General. So while the Director-General has only limited powers, they can be used effectively to help members to use the system to resolve differences.
The next questioner inquired as to what the Minister’s views were on whether it is time for an African or a woman to lead WTO. The Minister was also asked about the reform proposal from the U.S. to clarify who qualified as a developing country (versus current system where developing country status is a matter of self-selection). On the issue of gender or regional preferences to become the next Director-General, Minister Mohamed believed that the key consideration is whether a particular candidate is best qualified to handle the job. If a female has the qualities, obviously great. Members shouldn’t select a woman just to have a woman; they should pick the best candidate. On the issue of development, this is an issue for the members. Only category of members defined in the WTO is least developed countries where the United Nations listing is used. For all other Members, there are no definitions. It will be up to Members to decide if the issue is ripe for discussion.
One questioner wanted to know if Minister Mohamed has had solutions for the WTO reform needs why she hadn’t pursued them before now. Minister Mohamed indicated that it was up to Members to decide what issues to pursue. WTO is at a crossroads. Membership needs to agree on what to consider in any reform effort, what sequence of issues may make sense and so on. Questions of reform have been floated here in Geneva for many years. When she was Kenyan Ambassador to the WTO, the WTO was beehive of activity. In her prior roles both as Anbassador and as Minister and chair of the 10th Ministerial, she had in fact achieved with the membership significant reforms including managing to amend the TRIPS Agreement, achieving an agreement in agricultural export subsidies and more.
When asked what her approach would be to deal with trade tensions between US and China, Minister Mohamed stated that she would encourage all members to resolve their trade differences within the WTO rules.
On the issue of how to remove the impasse on the Appellate Body, Minister Mohamed indicated that Members need to consult and negotiate. The WTO needs members to find solutions to permit the second-tier of dispute settlement to be restored. A Director-General DG can offer technical assistance and process to help Members find the solutions.
A series of questions on reform were asked by a questioner – what would Minister Mohamed do to move reform forward? Should reform be incremental or broader based? How does MC12 factor into this? Minister Mohamed indicated that she would help members identify what they want and encourage dialogue. By the time of the next ministerial in 2021, she hoped there would be some clarity as to types of reforms needed and supported —restoring the Dispute Settlement system, updating rule book. There are lots of potential issues, but it is up to the Membership on what gets examined.
Is it Africa’s turn to lead? Why couldn’t Africa come together around one candidate? Minister Mohamed responded that Africa takes the WTO very seriously. That’s why there are three candidates. There is no reason to penalize Africa for having three candidates. Each of the three candidates is very accomplished. Africa should be commended for putting them forward.
H.E. Mohammad Mazaid Al-Tuwaijri (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)
Minister Al-Tuwaijri was the first candidate to meet with the General Council on Friday, July 17. His background is largely in business with the last four years serving Saudi Arabia as the Minister of the Economy and Planing. He started his prepared comments by expressing support all those affected by COVID-19, and noted his involvement for Saudi Arabia in addressing the pandemic in his country and the important role the WTO plays in keeping trade flowing.
Minister Al-Tuwaijri stated that his family had a long history of trading which involved traveling and following the North star. Like his family, the WTO Members must establish goals, set a course (their North star) to follow to accomplish the goals. The role of the Director-General is like a compass to help Members stay on the course towards achieving their goals. The WTO’s “challenging situation has become even more difficult with the pandemic; it will likely get worse; and, we know that trade policy is an essential part of the response to the pandemic itself, and will be key to our collective recovery.” (Pages 1-2)
Minister Al-Tuwaijri identified three questions to consider:
“First, what opportunities and solutions will emerge from current challenges?
“Second, how can Members work together to leverage new ideas, new rules and new technologies to solve the emerging problems that we face today, and the issues that will arise tomorrow?
“And, third, * * *, what kind of leadership is required to ensure that the
multilateral trading system delivers on the vision and objectives set by Members?” (Page 2)
Minister Al-Tuwaijri then indicates that the Membership needs to ensure “steady progress is made on delivering the goals and objectives set by Members.” (Page 2) Because the WTO is not performing, there is a need for a performance assessment to determine why. Based on his business background and government experience, if Minister Al-Tuwaijri is selected as the next Director-General, he would implement critical success factors from the goals and objectives of the Members, establish key performance indicators, and collect evidence and data to determine progress in meeting objectives.
“As part of this effort, feedback loops of constructive suggestions will be encouraged to deliver continuous improvement.
“If we do not respond to shortcomings, the system will not run smoothly,
stakeholders will become dissatisfied, and alternative means will be found outside the WTO to achieve your goals and objectives.” (page 4)
Minister Al-Tuwaijri noted that in its first twenty-five years, the WTO had maintained the status quo, but hadn’t adapted to the changing trade environment.
“Concerning working together through negotiations, I believe that Members will participate in negotiations when they are convinced that the agenda includes an incentive for them to participate. Therefore, in order to have a successful multilateral negotiation, the agenda needs to be balanced – it needs to include something for everyone. I support plurilateral negotiations as long as they are open to all Members, their outcome is applied to all on a most-favored nation basis, and they do not create rules that prejudice the interests of non-participants.” (PAGE 5) Minister Al-Tuwaijri indicated that the work of Members could be bolstered by WTO Secretariat research and interaction with the business communities of Members.
On the issue of opportunities from the current challenges, Minister Al-Tuwaijri expressed that the delay in the next Ministerial Conference (MC12) should permit completing of the fisheries subsidies negotiations and the plurilateral talks on e-commerce both important “issues in the public good”. (Page 6). He also suggested increasing the frequency of Ministerial meetings to annually. On the issue of special and differential treatment, “without negotiations that include incentives for everyone to participate actively, I do not think it will be possible for Members to address the issue of SDT.” (Page 6)
During the press conference, Minister Al-Tuwaijri provided a short opening statement and then answered questions. In his opening statement, Minister Al-Tuwaijri reviewed the current situation facing the WTO and the need for the next Director-General to have a strong reform agenda. COVID-19 will make the global trade situation more uncertain.
The first questioner asked how Minister Al-Tuwaijri could obtain regional support with the current conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Minister Al-Tuwaijri indicated that he would not comment on the dispute between Members. He noted that Qatar is a member of the WTO and believed the next Director-General should focus on what the goals of members are, how to achieve the goals and address the uncertainty created by the pandemic.
What is the greatest problem facing the WTO, and what is your plan to fix it? Minister Al-Tuwaijri noted that in the first twenty-five years of the WTO history, there have been some successes in terms of new agreements. However, the world has changed significantly in terms of trade. He sees the biggest issue facing the WTO as being the process of negotiations. In Minister Al-Tuwaijri’s view there is no process for negotiations. This results in countries going outside of WTO to find solutions in some circumstances. Thus, in his view, process enhancement is needed. Minister Al-Tuwaijri’s strengths are in management and leadership. These two characteristics are key to leading the WTO forward. The next Director-General should focus on process enhancement, design metrics so members can see progress. Moreover, whenever there is a dispute, the WTO should be looking for the root cause as well as resolving the particular dispute. If don’t get to root causes, disputes will recur. Minister Al-Tuwaijri approaches the challenges facing the WTO from a management perspective.
The next question reviewed interest by some Members in having a Director-General from an African country but noted that there has never been a Diirector-General from an Arab country either and sought the Minister’s comments. Minster Al-Tuwaijri noted that WTO Members need to think about what they need in the next Director-General . If management and leadership are the important characteristics that the next Director-General should have (which is the Minister’s view), he has those characteristics. First, he has twenty-five years management experience in the private sector where trade was important and multifaceted (trade finance, logistics, insurance, manufacturing, energy). He would bring that experience to the WTO Director-General position. Secondly, he has been the Minister of Economy and Planning, involved in major transformation (diversification) for the last four years, including policy making. He developed a delivery unit which measures performance and helps fill gaps. He would bring that experience to the WTO Director-General position as well.
On the issue of WTO reform, Minister AlTuwaijri recognized that the WTO is a member driven organization. Second, the Director-General has a function to facilitate and to assess, but there is also room to improve the Director-General’s role. For example, the next ministerial (MC12) has been delayed til 2021. The delay provides an opportunity to improve the discussion at MC 12 and the outcomes that are possible. Bringing management and leadership skills to the Director-General position will permit setting goals, metrics for measuring progress in achieving those goals and providing a feedback loop on gaps that need to be addressed. Certain current issues should be achievable, such as fisheries subsidies and e-commerce. In the Minister’s view, COVID-19 and postpandemic recovery provide the WTO an opportunity to address core needs of Members by doing a performance assessment. Where are the gaps in performance; why did those gaps develop; how to proceed? From his business and government experience, Minister Al-Tuwaijri knows that this type of transformation for the WTO to a more goal-oriented organization is possible.
Is it time for a woman to lead the WTO and what sets you apart from the other candidates. Minister Al-Tuwaijri stated that on women empowerment, he has a good track record in terms of working on woman empowerment in business and government As to what distinguishes him from other candidate, Minister Al-Tuwaijri reflected on his long business career and the need for specific goals and targets. He also reviewed his experience as a minister involved in the transformation of Saudi Arabia which is getting results. He brings those experiences to the WTO.
Why don’t Arab countries unite around one candidate where there are two candidates and does that hurt your chances? Minister Al-Tuwaijri remarked that the WTO is a member driven organization. Hence all WTO members can nominate candidates. All candidates have different experiences which provides much for Members to consider and choose from. For himself, the Minister noted that Saudi Arabia is presently president of G20 and has initiated its own reform program a few years back. Thus, Saudi Arabia has had the political will for reform. Coming from that culture can be useful to his candidacy.
Longterm observers view issues as revolving around political will versus being caused by a lack of management skills. Minister Al-Tuwaijri stated that while both technical and political elements exist, he believes that management and leadership would permit improvements in the process of negotiations which in turn would permit both the technical and political elements to have a better chance to work. How to improve the negotiation process is a management issue. Of course, there are political elements, and he has political background and strengths as well.
On the question about the future of the WTO, Minister Al-Tuwaijri noted that the future of the WTO is a member choice — the WTO is about their goals, their choices. The Director-General is a facilitator. But the organization is drifting away from its core objectives. Thus, there is a need to review root causes of this drift. He believes the WTO can create key performance indicators to prevent future drift and monitor early warning signs to catch major disputes early. The Minister wants the debate to shift from political will to how the Members can go back to the organization’s original goals and deliver on them.
On the Appellate Body, what is your plan to addressing U.S. concerns and do you plan to get it back functioning? Minister Al-Tuwaijri’s approach is the same as reviewed elsewhere. Determine what is root cause of AB not functioning. He believes it is because negotiations are not functioning well. Therefore, he wants to get the negotiating process to improve and to gain data to improve the system. For example, he believes it is important to be able to quantify the effect of delay of even one month in resolution of disputes.
Dr. Liam Fox (United Kingdom)
Dr. Fox was the last candidate to meet with the General Council. He has served in Parliament for many years and was Secretary of State for Defence and Secretary of State for International Trade under different UK administrations.
Dr. Fox started his prepared statement “by acknowledging the scale of the challenge the world currently faces in the COVID pandemic.” (Page 1). He commented that the WTO was facing problems before the pandemic., meaning to progress, it cannot be business as usual.
“But I know from talking to many of you, including in this last week, that
there is a widespread feeling that things are not as they should be. Yes,
there are technical issues to be overcome but the real problems of the
WTO are not technical. Our problem is the lack of political momentum.
There is too little political will to make the compromises needed for the
multilateral trading system to evolve and too little vision to make those
compromises easier. We must rediscover that political will and find the
right language to express our vision about the opportunities that trade
can bring to a new generation.” (Pages 2-3)
On the question of what qualifications the next Director-General should have, Dr. Fox stated that “it is not where the new DG comes from that matters but the skills and experience, especially the political experience, that they are able to bring to the organisation for the benefit of each and every one of our members. I believe that my 28 years in politics, and my years serving in senior cabinet posts such as trade and representing the UK at the top table on global issues give me the right experience to bring the renewed momentum, commitment and compromise, which will allow us to return this institution to greater global relevance.” (Page 3)
Dr. Fox expressed his strong support for open trade in a rules-based international trade system. He expressed concern for the trading system under current conditions and urged Members to recommit to the core principles of most-favoured nation, national treatment and transparency of commitments.
On the issue of challenges ahead for the new Director-General, Dr. Fox indicated that one of the first tasks would be to help Members achieve a successful Ministerial Conference (MC12 ) in 2021. A fisheries subsidies agreement needs to be completed as quickly as possible. Similarly progress on Joint Initiative issues like “e-commerce, services, MSMEs and investment” would be a priority. (Page 7) Outstanding issues on agriculture (subsidies, public stockholding for food security, cotton, and others) and WTO reform are other important issues to be addressed.
Dr. Fox reviewed concerns about increasing trade restrictive measures in the last decade and flowing from the pandemic and how they undermine other activities such as Aid for Trade.
On the topic of women and trade, Dr. Fox reviewed the importance of the issue and his own history of working to improve business opportunities for women and roles in government including the U.K. trade ministry. Dr. Fox committed that if he was selected as the next Director-General, he would “ensure that at least half of the WTO’s most senior leadership team are women.” (Page 9)
“[T]rade is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. It is a
means by which we create and share prosperity. That prosperity
underpins social cohesion and that social cohesion in turn underpins
political stability. That political stability is the bedrock of our collective
“And I say this because we must understand protectionism does not
come without a price tag. If we deny people access to prosperity and
opportunity through trade then we should not be surprised if the
outcomes, whether mass migration, political radicalisation or failing
states, come back to bite us.
“As an organisation we all need to recapture that optimism that comes
from committing to shared values. Yes, we’ve taken a billion people out
of extreme poverty but that cannot remotely be the end of our ambitions.
“We need the political momentum to take us forward. It is only with vision,
and shared purpose, that we can find the compromises required to meet
the challenges I’ve set out — reversing the rise in trade restrictive measures, recommitting ourselves to the founding principles to which we have all
agreed, while updating and strengthening this institution so it’s fit to tackle the challenges of the 21st Century.
“I believe I have the skills and experience to deliver that political
momentum.” (pages 10-11)
During the press conference, Dr. Fox provided a short opening statement which was followed by press questions. Dr. Fox’s opening statement reviewed some key points. This is not going to be business as usual. COVID-19 will affect the global economy and world trade. WTO is a great organization that has helped move 1 billion people out of poverty. There is a feeling in Geneva that the WTO has lost some of the political momentum. Negotiators can’t make compromises if don’t have common goals. The WTO can’t just focus on legacy issues (agriculture) but must address changed trading environment and also recommit to the principles of a multilateral trading system. Negative consequences of alternative outcome are too dark.
Why is the multilateral trading system important to the large parties? Dr. Fox indicated that he viewed the Director-General position to not be one of taking sides in bilateral disputes but to maintain the international trading system. If Members don’t enforce of what currently exists, what is the credibility of new rules signed onto later? He stated that all Members have benefitted from the multilateral trading system. The alternative to a rules- based system is not acceptable. That is true for most countries, not just smaller countries. He used the examples of the 4th and 5th largest economies, Germany and UK, for whom global trade is a major component of their economies.
On Brexit, is it an advantage or disadvantage for Dr. Fox’s candidacy with the EU? Dr. Fox stated that it was good that not everyone in the world sees all issues through the Brexit prism. If he becomes the next Director-General, he would be available to all Members on the same basis. While not directly relevant to the Director-General selection process, he hopes the UK and EU will reach a good trade agreement and believes it will be important for COVID recovery. On who the EU chooses, Dr. Fox believes the EU will likely pick a candidate who is most in line with their views on the characteristics and experiences needed for the job.
Is there a British perspective? Dr. Fox noted that he believes so in how he sees the role of the Director-General, which he analogizes to that of the British Prime Minister. In Britain, the Prime Minister is first among equals. Dr. Fox envisions the same concept applying to the WTO’s Director-General. On the question of whether Britain has a strong commitment to free trade, Dr. Fox noted that Britain has a very strong commitment to free trade. He is worried about threats to free trade today. He was surprised that in the General Council meeting he received very few questions about what free trade brings to consumers. Most of the questions were from a producer perspective. Trade liberalization is obviously very important to consumers. He would like to see the WTO unleash consumer interests more.
Dr. Fox received a question on whether it was premature for the U.K. to put forward a candidate since it has only recently obtained trade policy freedom from the EU. Dr. Fox’s answer was it was not too early. He noted the U.K.’s long history of promoting free trade. Currently besides negotiations with the EU, they are engaged in various other FTA negotiations and looking to adopt or further liberalize their participation in various FTAs between the EU and other countries.
There was a question on geographical diversity and his being European when most prior Director-Generals have been European. Dr. Fox stated that he understands the idea of diversity in personnel which he generally supports. What he is hearing from Members is that this organization has great personnel, but the organization is not where it should be. In Dr. Fox’s view, problems at the WTO are not technical but rather political. Whoever is the next Director-General will have to have difficult conversations with major members. He has met those leaders. Key is what the Director-General brings to the organization in skills and experience. Other aspect mentioned by some is gender diversity. Dr. Fox has been committed to gender diversity in his positions in the U.K. He has committed to having at least half of senior WTO officials be women if he is selected as the next Director-General.
One questioner asked if Dr. Fox had any Member is mind when he raised the need to support a rules-based system. Dr. Fox replied that he did not. He stated that at the end of World War II, nations set out principles in the GATT that have stood the test of time. Problem today is that various members have taken exception to particular rules. While exceptions or waivers are needed for some developing and least developed countries, it was not possible to have Members decide which rules applied to them. If Members don’t comply with existing agreements, what value do future agreements have? Countries at different stages of development access benefits of free trade under the current system by committing to basic principles.
A question was asked about the deficit of trust among Members of the WTO, and why Dr. Fox would be the right person to lead the organization and restore trust. Dr. Fox noted that a similar question had been asked during the General Council meeting. Important to know what is meat by trust. On the issue of how do parties get to trust, it is by the experience of behavior over time. Transparency and the sharing of information are big elements to enabling trust. In the current environment, the next Director-General will need a willingness to have conversations that are uncomfortable but necessary. The role of a Director-General is not to take sides but to understand both sides of a dispute between Members. In Dr. Fox’s view a political figure is better able to bring qualities to the role of the Director-General needed to build confidence. Separately, Dr. Fox stressed the importance in the present circumstances of being optimistic but also realistic. He believes that it would be a mistake for the Director-General to overpromise likely outcomes in the current circumstances.
As the only candidate from a developed country, does this give you an advantage? Dr. Fox noted that each candidate has different background and so could be viewed by some as advantaged or disadvantaged on the basis of geographic origin, gender and other factors. Dr. Fox does believe coming from a G20 country may be an advantage in the current cirumstances because of the substantial contraction in openness amongst G20 countries. He stated that the world is in a more difficult position re trade now than we were during the financial crisis. In 2009 only 0.7% of G20 import trade was covered by restrictive measures. By 2019 fully 10.3% of G20 imports were covered by restrictive measures. To come out of the economic challenges presented by the pandemic, all WTO Members have to abide by WTO commitments. That message may be easier to be delivered by a G20 country Director-General. Dr. Fox indicated he would have no problem delivering the message.
A question was asked of how Dr. Fox would address the broad concerns of U.S. with the WTO. Dr. Fox noted that the U.S. has some very specific concerns with the WTO, particularly with regards to the Appellate Body. Dr. Fox stated that the WTO has the Appellate Body because countries felt panels in GATT disputes went too wide. The Appellate Body was set up with a limited mandate. He is aware that there are different views of the role of Appellate Body and whether it has engaged in mission creep or handled incomplete texts by filling them out. If WTO Members are able to get back to a more narrow definition of the function of the Appellate Body, there may be some concept of precedent being set. Dr. Fox asks the question, does everyone want the AB to be functioning properly or not. If not, the multilateral trading system is under threat as obligations can’t be enforced. Believe there is room for compromise.
The last question inquired into what reform is needed. Dr. Fox articulated that reform should be viewed in three buckets. The first is conceptual reform. By this he means, Members recommitting to the basic principles of the WTO (most favoured nation, national treatment and transparency of commitments). He believes this is what MC 12 needs to focus on. The second is organizational reform. By this Dr. Fox means what does the team look like, the Director-General being first among equals; selecting Secretariat staff that are the most talented and challenging group. The third is policy reform. By that, Dr. Fox means what issues will be addressed — legacy issues and issues to update organization such as fisheries subsidies; resolution of the Appellate Body impasse. Dr. Fox concluded by saying that the Director-General position is a job for a politician not for a technocrat at this time.