Race for WTO Director-General — additional material on Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt)

Today I review some other press articles about the candidates to provide additional perspective on important issues or the candidate’s approach to the position of Director-General if selected. Yesterday, I posted material about Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria) and the day before on Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri. See September 1, 2020:  Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/01/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-nigeria/; August 31, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/31/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-dr-jesus-seade-kuri-mexico/.

There is no intention on my part to be exhaustive, and the research has been limited to press pieces in English. Rather the intention is to identify information not addressed in my earlier posts that may be of interest to readers.

Today’s post looks at a few articles featuring Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh from Egypt, the third candidate nominated.

  1. Daily News Egypt, August 25, 2020, Reviving WTO role as guarantor for stable international trade is my priority: Director General Candidate, https://dailynewsegypt.com/2020/08/25/reviving-wto-role-as-guarantor-for-stable-international-trade-is-my-priority-director-general-candidate/.

“In an interview with Daily News Egypt, Mamdouh highlighted that,
should his election campaign prove successful, his priority will be to
revive the organisation’s role as the guarantor of stability and
predictability in international trade relations.

“Mamdouh noted that the WTO was created to promote the growth and
expansion of world trade through a rules-based system guaranteeing the
rights and obligations of its members.

“He added that the organisation has suffered from a serious breakdown in
its three vital functions, namely dispute settlement, negotiations, and its
monitoring and deliberative capacities. These three functions are closely
interconnected, and the system was designed to operate with balance
across these three pillars.

“’My first priority will be to revive the three functions, starting with the
negotiating function,’ Mamdouh said, ‘If we cannot bring people to the
table to negotiate solutions to problems, we will get nowhere.’

* * *

“Regarding the challenges facing the organisation, 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,
negotiations, 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 has gained
strength due to the inherent automaticity of procedures, the negotiating
function has broken down. This has created an unsustainable imbalance.

“At the same time, the international trade landscape has dramatically
changed, and the WTO system has been unable to update its rule book.
This has caused unsustainable pressure on the dispute settlement
function, which produced the current breakdown in the Appellate Body,
and as the saying goes, if you cannot negotiate, you litigate.

“The world of trade has changed, and so have the dynamics within the
organisation. Whereas the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
(GATT) started its journey back in 1947 with merchandise trade across
borders, we have now expanded into trade in services and intellectual

“Today, the way we trade links goods, services, ideas, capital, and
regulation. That requires a comprehensive and coherent approach by the
WTO, that leads to a ‘deal’ that is truly inclusive of all sectors and
interests of Members.

“For example, I see the role that digitalisation has played for many
industries across the economy, with technology-driven business models.
At the same time, I also see the rising tide of legitimate domestic
regulation in areas like privacy, consumer protection and cyber-security.
The interface between the two needs to be managed, to ensure the lowest
trade restrictiveness of regulatory measures, while not intruding on
regulatory sovereignty.

“To complete the picture of where we stand today, we must look at the
crisis caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and make
sure that we retain the lessons we are currently learning. The world will
need a strong and stable WTO to support the post-crisis economic

* * *

A lot of challenges await the WTO’s new head, including the
increasing US-China tensions. How do you evaluate these
challenges and how you will deal with them?

“In my view, the tensions between the US and China are, to a very large
extent, a result of the WTO malfunctioning. The organisation was
specifically designed to avoid such tensions, by providing a forum for
resolving trade problems, not only through discussions and deliberations,
but also by updating the rule book through negotiations.

“The WTO Director General should use his or her soft power to persuade
the two parties that the organisation could be part of the solution, not the
problem. The best way to resolve such tensions would be through
seeking multilateral rule-base solutions, as opposed to bilateral deals.

“Furthermore, such tensions also have serious implications that go far
beyond the two parties directly involved. They affect a very wide range
of other WTO Members. Similarly, resolutions of such tensions will also
concern other parties, and that should be considered. Therefore,
multilateral solutions of such problems will always be the best option.

“I don’t believe that we should look at such situations in terms of having
winners and losers, but rather in terms of how we can find win-win
outcome through good mediation and creative negotiating solutions that
involve trade-offs acceptable to all.”

2. African Business Magazine, 13 August 2020, ‘The honest broker’ — Egypt’s Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh sets out his WTO leadership bid, https://africanbusinessmagazine.com/in-the-news/the-honest-broker-egypts-abdel-hamid-mamdouh-lays-out-his-wto-leadership-bid/.

“Promising not to repeat the same mistakes, Mamdouh believes the difference between the ‘Doha Round’ and the successful ‘Uruguay Round’, which led to the creation of the WTO in 1995, was the lack of strategic balance that kept the latter moving forward.

“’In the Doha Round that is not what we did,’ he says.

“’We had a big agenda with balance inside it, but we did not actually preserve the integrity of the balance as we proceeded. What happened really was the collapse of the negotiating process.’

* * *

“’We really are facing a situation where the system is threatened to fall apart,’ he says.

“’But let’s not let this crisis go to waste. Let’s use this crisis to mobilise all the political will and to move forward.’

“The first step is to ‘recall and reconstruct’ the common purpose of the WTO, based around the principles that trade is important for economies and that the best way to benefit from trade is to ensure the predictability and stability of trading conditions.

“The next step is to reform the 1947 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade; the WTO’s underlying treaty to eliminate trade barriers that was successfully built upon during the Uruguay Round and less so during the Doha Round.

“Moving towards the next ministerial meeting in Kazakhstan in 2021, specific areas of focus include negotiations on fisheries subsides, e-commerce, investment facilitation, domestic regulation services, trade and women empowerment and SMEs.

“To make the reforms possible the WTO must reimagine itself as an institution that can accommodate the demands of all its different members even though they often hold competing points of view.

“’What we need is a political vision that advances the different interests of different constituencies to bring everyone around the table, because the system can serve the interests of all,’ he says.

“’Successful relationships do not depend on how much we agree on, they depend a lot more on how we deal with our differences.’”

3. The National, August 13, 2020, WTO is in system meltdown according to the Egyptian who wants to run the body, https://www.thenational.ae/world/europe/wto-is-in-system-meltdown-according-to-the-egyptian-who-wants-to-run-the-body-1.1062808.

“Speaking at a webinar hosted by the London-based think tank Chatham House, Mr Mamdouh said the WTO had not been faced with comparable problems since it replaced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

“’The WTO is facing a stress test that reminds me of the stress test on the GATT when I came to Geneva in [1985], when the reform was necessary,’ he said.

“Mr Mamdouh explained that the systems within the WTO were now in a state of ‘complete breakdown’ because of ‘excessive pressure’ on its dispute settlement function.

“’That was not sustainable, so it failed as well,’ he said.

* * *

“The Egyptian nominee for the WTO’s top post has said it would be his goal to hit the ground running with the body’s 12th ministerial conference, which is scheduled for June 2021.

“’I would say that there are two sets of issues that I would have as my priorities. The first is to have a clear vision for a reform agenda and reform process. So we would agree that [the ministerial conference], what do we want to do with this organisation?’

“Secondly Mr Mamdouh said there were a number of crucial negotiations, foremost among which was fisheries subsidies negotiations, which needed to be concluded.

“’There are ongoing negotiations on eCommerce, investment facilitation, domestic regulation services, small and medium-sized enterprises, trade and women empowerment. We need to register concrete progress on those,’ he said.

“’We need to, we need to use the next ministerial to move the WTO into positive territory,’ Mr Mamdouh added.”

3. The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, July 29, 2020, The Race for the World Trade Organization (podcast of interview), https://www.thecairoreview.com/podcasts/the-race-for-the-world-trade-organization/. What follows are my notes on some of Mr. Mamdouh’s responses to questions

Mr. Mamdouh noted that there has been a Breakdown in negotiating function and in transparency/monitoring function. In his view, the first task is to get the negotiating function operating again.

In response to a question on how COVID-19 has affected world trade, Mr. Mamdouh distinguished between short-term and long-term issues.

Within the short-term, Mr. Mamdouh views that there has been a lot of panic analysis. The WTO system allows some restrictions to be applied, particularly export restrictions, and a number of countries have applied such restrictions. If such restrictions are imposed, they have to be transparent, notified to the WTO, used only to the extent necessary, and terminated when not needed. What the WTO needs to ensure now is that goods and services flow smoothly. Moreover, during the COVID pandemic, not all goods have been affected by restrictions. Rather, we are basically talking about medical products and food products. So the range of goods restricted by some Members is quite limited.

Mr. Mamdouh stated that once countries get past the short term, all will need a strong WTO to ensure predictability and stability to let trade serve its role in restoring growth.

On a question dealing with negotiating issues important to developing countries, Mr. Mamdouh responded that there are negotiating items on the table now that need to be resolved which support developing country development by securing stability and predictability and which should take account of special needs of developing countries. Mr. Mamdouh believes that the WTO Members need to ensure that all three legs of the organization (negotiations, transparency/monitoring, and dispute settlement) function properly, so the organization doesn’t find itself back in the dysfunctional situation Members now find themselves in. One of the important opportunities for developing countries is the issue of digital trade, but many developing countries are presently unable to take advantage of the technological developments. Stated differently, there is a digital divide. So an important issue is how can trade negotiations at the WTO and work by the WTO with other multilateral organizations support addressing the digital divide.

How trade has changed? Mr. Mamdough responded that the trend over the last 20 years has been towards a more global value chain model of trade which depends on the smooth cross-border movement of goods and services. WTO Members need a clear and predictable trade regime to permit the smooth movement of goods and services. Many developing countries have not focused on the growing importance of the role of services in global value chains (e.g., transport, logistics, electronic payments, R&D, production engineering, etc.). Governments need to look at their regulation of services to be sure they are competitive. The third way in which trade has changed, is the digitalization of trade. Thus, how we produce, trade and consume goods and services have all changed.

On dispute settlement, Mr. Mamdouh stated that the WTO needs reform. But major surgery is not needed. The concerns expressed are not about the rules as such but how the rules are applied. Moreover, in looking at reform of dispute settlement, WTO Members must keep in mind the role that the breakdown in the negotiating function and the monitoring/governance function has had in putting undue pressure on dispute settlement. Restoring balance among the key functions will reduce the pressure on dispute settlement.

4. Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, June 15, 2020, Egypt’s Mamdouh: WTO needs to find its ‘common purpose’ again, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/egypt%E2%80%99s-mamdouh-wto-needs-find-its-%E2%80%98common-purpose%E2%80%99-again.

Inside U.S. Trade has conducted interviews with all of the eight candidates for the Director-General position. The interview with Mr. Mamdouh was an early one conducted by the publication in mid-June.

Mr. Mamdouh takes instruction from the reform success of the Uruguay Round which succeeded because the reform agenda was balanced such that all participants had items of importance to them in the negotiations. This resulted in Members having a common purpose. Mr. Mamdouh doesn’t believe Members currently have a common purpose and that has prevented there being a viable negotiating function.


Each candidate has been very busy these last several months meeting with WTO Members both in Geneva and in capital (whether in person or virtually), talking to the media, doing events with academia and think tanks and others. The above additional materials on Mr. Mamdouh are a small sample of what is available online. The excerpts or summaries from the various publications have largely been limited to some of the key issues my previous posts have examined (appellate body reform, industrial subsidies, etc.) or discussions of other issues of potential interest..

Future posts will look at additional materials for other candidates.

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