As reviewed in yesterday’s post, Nigeria had announced that it would be nominating Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Nigeria’s nomination was received at the WTO today, June 9. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has twice served as Nigeria’s Finance Minister and had a two-decade career at the World Bank. Her resume as submitted to the WTO is embedded below.bio_nga_e
The African Union is reported to be meeting virtually later this week to consider which African candidate it will support for the WTO Director-General (“DG”) position. There are likely at least two other African candidates being considered as reviewed yesterday. See Selecting a new WTO Director-General – “the game is afoot”; Mexico’s Jesus Seade Kuri is the first nominee, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/06/08/selecting-a-new-wto-director-general-the-game-is-afoot-mexicos-jesus-seade-kuri-is-the-first-nominee/.
Each candidate put forward to date has strengths and possible perceived weaknesses in terms of the DG position, although the qualifications of candidates outlined in the procedures are broad: “In broad terms, candidates should have extensive experience in international relations, encompassing economic, trade and/or political experience; a firm commitment to the work and objectives of the WTO; proven leadership and managerial ability; and demonstrated communications skills.” WT/L/509, para. 9 The procedures, wherein candidates are given time to make themselves known to Members both in Geneva and in capitals and the General Council meeting to give each candidate an opportunity to present their credentials and vision for the WTO provides important opportunities for each candidate to demonstrate his or her qualifications.
Just looking at the biographies provided to the WTO for the first two candidates, I would make the following preliminary comments:
Jesus Seade has a strong trade background and is knowledgeable about the operations of the WTO having served as Mexico’s Ambassador to the GATT and having served as a Deputy Director-General of the GATT and WTO as well as having served as Mexico’s Chief Negotiator for the USMCA in wrapping up negotiations on the recently completed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and Under-Secretary for North America. His background also includes time at both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. If he has weaknesses, it could be that Mexico is viewed as part of Latin America and outgoing DG Azevedo is from Brazil, another Latin American country. For equally qualified candidates, a factor to be considered would be whether a Mexican candidate following a Brazilian DG would reflect “the diversity of the WTO’s membership in successive appointments to the post of Director-General.” WT/L/509, para 13. Mexico also asserts the status of a developing country. Should Members decide to alternate between developed and developing (as it has on the last four DGs, being from a developing country would weigh against him. It is also the case that his last direct involvement with the WTO goes back several decades, so he might have less familiarity with current WTO Missions and Member capitals than other possible candidates may have.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has an impressive resume with senior government positions (Finance Minister) and senior positions at a major international organization, the World Bank. Being from Africa, which has never had a Director-General, could be viewed as an advantage under the geographic diversity factor that can be considered where there are equally qualified candidates. WT/L/509, para. 13. While the sex of a candidate is not a specifically listed factor to be considered, there has not been a female Director-General and so that may be a positive for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala where other candidates are equally qualified but male. As to potential negatives, her background is in finance, not in trade, which could be viewed as a negative. Just as for Mexico, Nigeria is a developing country at the WTO. If the Members decide to rotate between developed and developing, coming from a developing country would be a negative factor. Finally, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would likely be less well known among Geneva Missions and trade officials in capitals which could also be a negative.
With two nominees in the first two days of the month-long period for nominations, it is unknown how many candidates there will be in total by July 8. The procedures adopted in 2002 encourage nominations from a broad cross-section of Members. “In order to ensure that the best possible candidate is selected to head the WTO at any given time, candidatures representing the diversity of Members across all regions shall be invited in the nominations process.” WT/L/509, para. 13. The first two candidates are obviously very talented individuals with very different career paths. WTO Members will be attempting to determine which candidate would be best able to lead the Organization forward in a period of great challenges. Because there may be very different views as to which direction Members want the organization to go in the future, the road ahead for the selection process is not necessarily a smooth one.
If it turns out to be a crowded field, it is less likely that Members will be comfortable with a truncated timeline for considering the candidates which will require selecting an acting Director-General from the four Deputy Directors-General. To use the Chinese saying, “may we live in interesting times.”