Race for WTO Director-General — additional material on H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya)

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 H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea), the day before on Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi (Modolva), On September 2 on Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), on September 1 on Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria) and on August 31 on Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri. See September 4, 2020:  Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/04/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-h-e-yoo-myung-hee-republic-of-korea/; September 3, 2020,   Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/03/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-amb-tudor-ulianovschi-moldova/; September 2, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/02/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-mr-abdel-hamid-mamdouh-egypt/; 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 or videos 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 H.E. Amina C. Mohamed from Kenya, the sixth candidate nominated.

  1. Financial Times, August 4, 2020, Leading WTO candidates back US bid for dispute system reforms, https://www.ft.com/content/f4830e2b-df7b-474a-8104-6336992ca193.

“The two leading candidates to run the World Trade Organization have called for reform to address US criticisms that have paralysed the institution’s legal body and risk undermining the entire organisation.

“Kenya’s Amina Mohamed and Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala are the favourites to be appointed WTO director-general after incumbent Roberto Azevedo steps down in September. In interviews with the Financial Times, both said that American criticisms of judical over-reach by the organisation’s dispute settlement system were valid.

* * *

“Asked by the FT whether the US criticisms were fair, Ms Mohamed, a former diplomat and trade minister, said: ‘Yes, I think that the US concerns are real.’

“She added: ‘The feeling in Geneva among very many members is that they [the appellate body] went outside the mandate that was granted to them.’

“WTO member governments should reassert their authority over rulemaking in the organisation, Ms Mohamed said.

“‘We need to make sure . . . that the appellate body members understand that is the only mandate that they can have, that they cannot add to or diminish the rights of parties. Those rights were negotiated by member states,’ she said. The body’s habit of deliberately creating legal precedent to apply to other cases involving other governments ‘was not right’, she added.”

2. Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, July 21, 2020, Kenya’s Mohamed says she has delivered at the WTO before and will again, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/kenya’s-mohamed-says-she-has-delivered-wto-and-will-again.

As part of the publication’s interviews with all WTO Director-General candidates, Inside U.S. Trade interviewed Minister Mohamed in July. Minister Mohamed repeated views she has expressed at the WTO and in various webinars. The WTO has serious problems including a negotiating function that is stalled, the impasse on the dispute settlement system and more. As a member-driven organization, it is the Members who will have to set the reform agenda, though the Director-General can help facilitate Members’ efforts. Reform will require support from all Members including the largest, such as the U.S. and China.

Minister Mohamed noted that the issues the U.S. has raised, whether on the operation of the Appellate Body or other issues, are of concern to other Members as well and need to be addressed if the WTO is to maintain relevance. Both the U.S. and China have been major beneficiaries of the trading system. Tensions between the major players is in part due to lack of reform. The rule book needs to be updated and added to to ensure it reflects the realities of 21st century trade developments.

3.  Chatham House, 6 August 2020, In Conversation with Ambassador Amina Mohamed: Candidate for Director-General of the World Trade Organization, https://www.chathamhouse.org/event/conversation-ambassador-amina-mohamed-candidate-director-general-world-trade-organization.

Chatham House has conducted a series of webinars with each of the eight candidates for the Director=General position. The webinar with Minister Mohamed was held on August 6, 2020. My notes on some of the questions and Minister Mohamed’s responses follows.

Q:  what is your overarching philosophy for international trade?

A:  Following the Great Depression and World War II, the creation of the Bretton Woods institutions focused on multilalteral cooperation.  Multilateral cooperation and trade liberalization led to unprecedented growth and development.  Trade was a big part of the progress.  Minister Mohamed has seen the dynamism that trade can have to help countries  develop and integrate into the global economy.  However, there have been instances where countries haven’t had the ability to integrate, where assistance was needed

Multilateral trade rules have not kept up to  date.  There are many developments and challenges facing global trade — digital trade, environmental challenges, sustainable development, and now the pandemic.

The WTO will need reform, recovery, and renewal to play the role it needs to play.

Q:  Based on the economic effects from the COVID-19 pandemic, the WTO is predicting a huge trade decline in 2020 with a smaller recovery in 2021.  What does WTO need to do to help countries deal with the pandemic and recover?

A:  The WTO needs to do what the WTO does best, insist on transparency.  Out of  fear at the start of the pandemic. Members of  the WTO erected trade restrictions on the export of medical goods and some on agricultural goods.  Members were focused on national needs versus working on international cooperation.  The WTO must be sure  that the gateways of trade are open.  The WTO must  look at members’ responses  to the pandemic.  For outside observers, the WTO’s monitoring/transparency function is often overlooked.  In the pandemic, the transparency function of the WTO has become incredibly important.  The WTO must make sure the transparency mechanism works well.  If  WTO Members put in place trade facilitation measures, Members can get out of  the pandemic all together and quickly.  WTO Members must be sure medical supplies  and agricultural goods are available to all, particularly those who don’t produce medical goods and must import them.

Q:  There is a crisis in the WTO’s dispute settlement system.  How would you address?

A: In Minister Mohamed’s view, the whole WTO system is a complete system.  Negotiations, monitoring, disputes,  If you take one piece out, you create a gap which must be filled.  The WTO dispute settlement system is a two-tiered system.  If rules are not obeyed, you need an effective system or the rules lack legitimacy.  Based on Minister Mohamed’s outreach to Members, she knows that there is broad support for reform of the dispute settlement system.  If Members don’t  agree on and complete reform, Members will put in interim measures.  The way to  create reform is to get proposals out  on the table.  There are important questions such as why does the AB not exist any more?  Where did we get off  track?  How can we get it back on track?  Members are interested in getting dispute settlement back on track.  There have been a number of proposals.  One, from Amb. Walker, has  been gaining traction.  The process must include all Members in the discussion and get agreement on how to proceed.

Q:  Where is the aid for  trade initiative going?

A:  Minister Mohamed was at the WTO when the aid-for-trade initiative was adopted.  Members need such an initiative to permit integration of least developed  and some developing countries where capacity building is required to permit participation (e.g., developing standards).  The WTO came up with a program that attracted funding from countries that could  help.  It has worked really, really well.  If Minister Mohamed becomes the Director-General, she would work with other international organizations to increase financing.  She noted that all other multilateral organizations have trade desks.  A key objective is to ensure the aid-for-trade initiative has the resources to help as many countries as possible.  It is a critical initiative, but needs a lot  of support.

Q:  What role will sustainable development goals have on WTO moving forward?.

A:  Minister Mohamed noted that sustainable development has been an aspect of WTO work and will continue to be going forward..  She focused on this at the Nairobi Ministerial in 2015 and obtained an agreement on agricultural export subsidies which goes to reducing hunger by eliminating distortions in agricultural trade which should permit more food to be produced locally.  At the present time, the WTO has fisheries subsidies negotiations underway.  An agreement, when reached, is important for trade but also for sustainable development.  Other issues have effects on sustainable development as well – agricultural negotiations on domestic  support), plurilateral negotiations on digital trade (must be sure that benefits area shared on an MFN basis and have provisions that will help address the digital divide).  And the WTO looks at issues involving trade and the environment..

Q:  On climate change, as Director-General of the WTO how will you ensure WTO is engaged on climate change?

A:  At the WTO, there are a range of issues that look at trade and another topic.  Thus, the WTO has a Trade and Environment Committee.  When Minister Mohamed was Ambassador to the WTO, the Committee was very active and did  a lot  of work.  For example, the Committee started on a list  of goods and services that were environmental goods.  If Minister Mohamed becomes Director-General, she would try to  energize the Committee, update the list and ensure that the WTO is engaged in global discussion on environmental issues.

Q:  What  strategy do you have to build cooperation within WTO? 

A:  As Director-General, Minister Mohamed would deal with tensions in the system by addressing reform to deal with shortcomings in the rules.  Must update the rule book which Members feel is outdated.  The needs from the Pandemic, the rise of digital trade, sustainable development goals — all are topics where a review and revision of the rule book are required.  There are old issues that need new rules or updated rules. There are new issues that need new rules.   Without updated rules, the WTO will face continued tensions.  The Director-General can create the space  for  parties to negotiate, be an honest broker and help facilitate progress.

Q:  Looking at the tension between the US  and China, how can you convince the U.S. that multilateralism is in the U.S.’s interest?

A:  There is no real question that multilateral trade has been beneficial for all.  The purpose of GATT was to see that trade disputes were resolved according to agreed rules, without going to conflict.  At present, there are heightened tensions because the WTO rules are weak or are absent.  So must put in place the conditions to permit parties to confidentially meet and resolve matters.  The Director-General acts as an honest broker.   Tensions have existed in the past and have been resolved within the GATT and now the WTO.  Need to build confidence among Members and need to put issues on the table and discuss.  There is no doubt in Minister Mohamed’s mind that trade issues can be resolved within the WTO. 

Q:  Concerned about the Doha Round not being active.  This is a question of how we use  trade as a means of development?

A: This is a concern raised by a number of countries.  The Doha Development Agenda (DDA) was launched in 2001.  Followed 9-11 where needed to show international community could come together and achieve  something  significant.  DDA remains unfinished.  However at  the 2015 Nairobi Ministerial, WTO Members resolved the issue of export subsidies.  If the WTO can deal with domestic  support, market opening, fisheries subsidies will have resolved a number  of important  matters from the DDA.  So some DDA issues have been resolved already, others are under negotiation.  Need to see that the other two pillars of the agriculture package will be restarted again (domestic support, market liberalization).  Will try to get  agreement to reopen these at next Ministerial and move for progress on remaining agricultural issues (including  cotton).

Q:  The Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) is the only multilateral agreement since the start of the WTO.  What lessons for WTO going forward?

A:  TFA is a new generation agreement.  By that Minister Mohamed means that the agreement bases the flexibilities and the concessions on the abilities and needs of individual Members.  That approach of fashioning exceptions to obligations to the needs of specific Members is likely to be typical of future agreements. There may also be capacity building and other similar features.


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 Minister Mohamed 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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