Selection of WTO Director-General

WTO Director-General selection process doesn’t generate immediate consensus

The troika of WTO Chairs (of the General Council, Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body) met with the WTO heads of delegation on October 28 to review the results of the third round of consultations with Members as part of the long process of selecting the next Director-General. The meeting which was scheduled for 3 p.m. Geneva time, started after 3:15 p.m. and resulted in at least temporary challenges.

The two remaining candidates for consideration during the third round were Korea’s Minister for Trade, H.E. Yoo Myung-hee and Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Both are considered highly qualified though with very different backgrounds — trade for Minister Yoo; development economics and finance for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. Both candidates received strong support from their host governments in terms of politic outreach.

Amb. David Walker, the Chair of the General Council, announced that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has emerged from the third round as the candidate most likely to attract consensus among the Members, and it is understood that she received broad support. Press articles have indicated support from WTO Members of the African Union, support from the countries part of the European Union and other support in the Americas and Asia, including China and Japan. Thus, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala may have been the preferred candidate for more than 100 of the 164 WTO Members.

Minister Yoo reportedly had the support of the United States, many countries in Asia and other support from the Americas and elsewhere.

The actual support of each candidate is not released by the WTO as consultations are confidential, though individual governments are, of course, free to identify which candidate they preferred.

Importantly, the Republic of Korea did not withdraw Minister Yoo’s candidacy and the U.S. has indicated it continues to support Minister Yoo, which means that at least for the moment there is not a consensus for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala.

Presumably the troika will continue to consult with Korea and the United States to see if they can get those Members to support the potential consensus behind Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. The procedures adopted by the General Council in late 2002 indicate that the troika should be submitting the name of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala to the General Council recommending her appointment by the General Council:

“At the end of the final stage of the consultative process, the Chair, with the support of the facilitators, shall submit the name of the candidate most likely to attract consensus and recommend his or her appointment by the General Council.”

Procedures for the Appointment of Directors-General, Adopted by the General Council on 10 December 2002, WT/L/509 (20 January 2003), para. 19.

Because of the present positions of Korea and the United States, it is likely that Amb. Walker will delay calling a General Council meeting in the hope of obtaining clearance of the current blockage. At some point, Amb. Walker will presumably call the General Council meeting so Members have to be on the record as opposing consensus. As a last resort, Amb. Walker and his facilitators can have the General Council vote to select the next Director-General. Id, para. 20.

Recourse to voting as a last resort

“20. If, after having carried out all the procedures set out above, it has not been possible for the General Council to take a decision by consensus by the deadline provided for the appointment, Members should consider the possibility of recourse to a vote as a last resort by a procedure to be
determined at that time. Recourse to a vote for the appointment of a Director-General shall be understood to be an exceptional departure from the customary practice of decision-making by consensus, and shall not establish any precedent for such recourse in respect of any future decisions in the WTO.”

The deadline for the appointment under existing procedures, is November 7, 2020. Id, para. 15. It is unclear what the objection is for the United States to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, although press accounts have indicated that the U.S. has concerns about Dr. Okonjo-Iweala based on her work with U.S. officials with significantly different views on trade policy than the current U.S. Administration. It is also not clear why Korea’s candidate would not follow the agreed procedures for appointment of Directors-General and withdraw in light of the preferences expressed to the troika during the third round.

Conclusion

The WTO has been fortunate to have very strong candidates put forward to be considered as the next Director-General. Minister Yoo is highly qualified and had a strong presentation of views and intended approach for leading the WTO forward.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala with her service as Minister of Finance twice for Nigeria and twenty-five years experience at the World Bank, background in development economics, and service as Chair of GAVI brings a wealth of experience at high levels of government and multilateral organizations. She is also a candidate from Africa, a continent that has not to date had a Director-General of the WTO. As stated in the General Council’s procedures for appointing Directors-General,

Representativeness of candidates

“13. 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. Where Members are faced in the final selection with equally meritorious
candidates, they shall take into consideration as one of the factors the desirability of reflecting the diversity of the WTO’s membership in successive appointments to the post of Director-General.”

There has been a prior WTO Director-General from Asia, which may have been a consideration for some WTO Members in providing their preference for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala instead of Minister Yoo in the third round.

It is obviously unfortunate that a process that has worked smoothly so far in 2020, has developed the current set of challenges from Korea and the U.S. Hopefully, the challenges will be addressed and a consensus reached in the next nine days. The correct outcome at this point is for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala to be the next Director-General, the first female Director-General and the first African Director-General.

If the unexpected holdup in concluding the selection process can be resolved, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will hopefully be up to the daunting task that awaits the next Director-General. Success will depend on the willingness of Members to find common ground and address the need for reform and updating the rule book — clearly a herculean challenge considering the very different views of major Members and different groups of Members. But the WTO needs a leader who can help Members find the path forward, be an honest broker, help Members restore confidence in the organization and ensure trade issues can be effectively addressed within the organization, help ensure engagement by all, and be able to engage with governments at a political level and with other multilateral organizations to achieve meaningful participation by all. The global trading system needs a strong and relevant WTO. Time will tell if Dr. Okonjo-Iweala will be that leader. Let’s hope that the next Director-General will succeed.

WTO Director-General selection — press reports EU, Japan join those supporting Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria

With the third round of consultations concluding on Tuesday, October 27, press reports indicate that Japan will be supporting the Nigerian canadidate and the EU, after extended internal debate, has apparently agreed to support Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria as well. See The Japan Times, October 26, 2020, Japan decides against backing South Korean for WTO chief, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/10/26/business/japan-south-korea-nominee-wto/; Politico, October 26, 2020, EU backs Nigerian candidate for WTO top job, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-backs-nigerian-candidate-for-wto-top-job/.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has received the backing of the WTO Members of the African Union and reportedly several dozen other Members from the Americas and Asia. See, e.g., RTL Today, October 19, 2020, ‘I feel the wind behind my back’: Nigerian WTO candidate, https://today.rtl.lu/news/business-and-tech/a/1596831.html.

Some press article have suggested that China is also likely to support the Nigerian candidate, although there has not been formal confirmation to date and some articles have suggested China may have problems with each of the two remaining candidates. See, e.g., South China Morning Post, October 8, 2020, China faces ‘difficult trade-off’ as WTO leadership race heads into final round, https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3104712/china-faces-difficult-trade-wto-leadership-race-heads-final.

The United States has been reported in the press as supporting Minister Yoo Myung-hee from the Republic of Korea. Bloomberg (article in Swissinfo.com), October 21, 2020, Global Trade-Chief Race Slows as U.S., EU Split on Finalists, https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/bloomberg/global-trade-chief-race-slows-as-u-s—eu-split-on-finalists/46110158.

It is also known that the President of Korea and other senior officials within the Korean government have been actively reaching out to WTO Members to encourage support of Minister Yoo in the third round. See, e.g., Yonhap News Agency, October 20, 2020, Moon requests support from 2 nations for S. Korean candidate’s WTO chief bid, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201020009151320; The Korea Times, October 20, 2020, Government goes all out for Yoo’s WTO election, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201020009151320.

What do the news articles portend?

Assuming the support for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is as broad and deep as is being reported, the Nigerian should be the candidate who is announced by the troika in the WTO (Chairs of the General Council, Dispute Settlement
Body and Trade Policy Review Body) as the candidate most likely to achieve consensus from the membership at an informal heads of delegation. If there is no opposition from a Member or Members suggesting blockage of consensus, the informal heads of delegation meeting could be set for as early as Thursday, October 29, with a General Council meeting to confirm the selection held that afternoon or on the 30th of October. If one or more Members indicates a likelihood of blockage of consensus, it is likely that the informal heads of delegation meeting would not occur on the 29th to give the troika the opportunity to work with those threatening blockage to attempt to achieve consensus. See October 9, 2020:  October 8th video discussion on WTO Director-General selection process following the announcement of two finalists, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/09/october-8th-video-discussion-on-wto-director-general-selection-process-following-the-announcement-of-two-finalists/ (video from WITA; see comments of Amb. Rufus Yerxa, President of the National Foreign Trade Council).

Under the procedures adopted in late 2002 for the selection of a Director-General if there is a failure to achieve consensus, Members could select the Director-General based on a vote. To date, voting has not been required. Hopefully, the same will be true in this selection as well. If so, it appears that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will be the next Director-General of the WTO.

Third Round of Consultations in Selecting new WTO Director-General – eight days to go, political outreach continues at high level

The last WTO Director-General, Roberto Azevedo, departed at the end of August. The existing four Deputy Directors-General are overseeing WTO operations awaiting the outcome of the selection process for a new Director-General. While eight candidates were put forward by early July and had two months to “become known” to WTO Members, the process of winnowing down the candidates started in September and has gone through two rounds where the candidate pool went from eight to five to two. Which brings the WTO to the third and final round of consultations by the troika of Chairs of the General Council, Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body with the WTO Membership to find the one candidate with the broadest support both geographically but also by type of Member (developed, developing, least developed).

The third round started on October 19 and will continue through October 27. While the process is confidential, with each Member meeting individually with the troika and providing the Member’s preference, Members can, of course, release information on the candidate of their preference if they so choose.

The two candidates who remain in contention are Minister Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria. While all eight of the candidates who were put forward in June and July were well qualified, Minister Yoo and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala have received high marks from WTO Members from the very beginning. While Minister Yoo has the advantage in terms of trade background, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has an impressive background as a former finance minister, 25 years at the World Bank and her current role as Chair of GAVI.

The procedures for selecting a new Director-General which were agreed to in late 2002 by the General Council put a primary focus on qualifications as one would assume. However, where there are equally well qualified candidates then geographical diversity is specifically identified as a a relevant criteria. There has never been a Director-General from Africa and there has only been one Director-General from Asia (although there was also a Director-General from the Pacific area outside of Asia). With the UN Sustainable Development Goals including one on gender equality (SDG #5), many Members have also been interesting in seeing a Director-General picked from the women candidates. Since both of the two remaining candidates are women, geographical diversity will likely have an outsized role in the third round .

Both remaining candidates are receiving strong support from their home governments in terms of outreach to foreign leaders seeking support for their candidate. The candidates, of course, are also extremely busy with ongoing outreach.

Thus, Minister Yoo traveled back to Europe last week and had a meeting with the EC Trade Commissioner Dombrovskis on October 13, among other meetings. See https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/cldr_20_1935; Yonhap News Agency, Seoul’s top trade official to visit Europe to drum up support her WTO chief race, October 12, 2020, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201012003300320?section=business/industry;

Similarly, the Korean President Moon Jae-in, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun and the ruling Democratic Party (DP) Chairman Lee Nak-yon are engaged in outreach for Minister Yoo’s candidacy. Korea JoongAng Daily, October 12, 2020, Moon, allies intensify campaign for Yoo Myung-hee to head WTO, https://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/2020/10/12/national/politics/Yoo-Myunghee-WTO-Moon-Jaein/20201012172600409.html. Contacts have been made with heads of state or senior officials in Malaysia, Germany, Brazil, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Japan and the U.S. among others. See The Korea Times, October 20, 2020, Government goes all out for Yoo’s WTO election Government goes all out for Yoo’s WTO election, https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2020/10/120_297887.html. President Moon has also raised the issue of support with new ambassadors to Korea — including the German, Vietnamese, Austrian, Chilean, Pakistani and Omani ambassadors. Yonhap News Agency, October 16, 2020, Moon requests support for S. Korea’s WTO chief bid in meeting with foreign envoys, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201016008600315.

Minister Yoo is reported to be having problems in solidifying support from some major Asian Members — including China and Japan — for reasons at least partially separate from her qualifications and is facing what appears to be block support by African WTO Members for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. Thus, broad outreach in Asia, the Americas and in Europe will be important for Minister Yoo if she is to be the last candidate standing on October 28-29.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is similarly receiving strong support from her government where President Muhammadu Buhari indicated full support by the Nigerian government. See The Tide News Online, Ocotber 14, 2020, Buhari Backs Okonjo-Iweala For WTO Job, http://www.thetidenewsonline.com/2020/10/14/buhari-backs-okonjo-iweala-for-wto-job/. Press accounts report that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has the full backing of the African Union as well as support in both the Americas and Asia. See RTL Today, October 19, 2020, ‘I feel the wind behind my back’: Nigerian WTO candidate, https://today.rtl.lu/news/business-and-tech/a/1596831.html. Many have felt that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is the candidate to beat, and she is certainly helped by the support of the African Union WTO Members but will also need broad support in the other regions of the world to be the one remaining candidate.

With just eight days to go to the conclusion of the third round of consultations, the remaining two candidates and their governments are turning over every stone in their effort to generate the support needed to come out of the third round as the sole candidate left.

While the candidate announced on October 29 as the remaining candidate still has to be put forward to the General Council for consensus adoption as the new Director-General, it seems unlikely at the moment that either candidate, should she emerge as the preference of the WTO membership, would be blocked by a Member from becoming the next Director-General. While such blockage is always a possibility, the 2002 agreed procedures have prevented such blockage and hopefully will result in a clean conclusion this year as well.

It is certain to be an interesting end of October.

WTO remaining candidates for the Director-General position — Questions and Answers from the July 15 and 16 meetings with the General Council

The third round of consultations with WTO Members on which of the two remaining candidates is preferred and hence may be the most likely to obtain consensus to become the next Director-General gets started next Monday, October 19 and ends on October 27.

Both Minister Yoo of Korea and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria are in the process of seeking support from WTO Members and have the full support of their governments which are making calls and sending letters to government officials in many of the WTO Members.

Minister Yoo is back in Europe seeking support in this third round (she and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala both received preferences from the EU in the second round). Press reports indicate that China is believed to be supporting Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, and Japan is understood to have concerns with both candidates. Thus, Minister Yoo is working to bolster support in other regions of the world to supplement what is assumed to be only partial support within Asia.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has received the support from Kenya after Kenya’s candidate did not advance to the third round. It is not clear whether she will receive support from all African Members of the WTO, although Kenya’s action is obviously an imortant positive for her.

So the next eleven days will be an active time as each of the remaining candidates seeks support in the final round of consultations from Members in different geographical areas as well as in different categories (developed, developing and least developed countries).

One source of information about the candidates that hasn’t been available to the public but is now available is the questions and answers provided to the General Council meetings with each candidate on July 15 (Dr. Okonjo-Iweala) and July16 (Minister Yoo). While there were three days of meetings with the General Council to accommodate the eight candidates, the two remaining candidates appeared during the first two days. The Minutes of the Meeting of the General Council, 15-17 July 2020 are contained in WT/GC/M/185 (31 August 2020). The procedures for each candidate were reviewed by the General Council Chairman David Walker (New Zealand).

“Each candidate would be invited to make a brief presentation lasting no more than fifteen minutes. That would be followed by a question-and-answer period of no more than one hour and fifteen minutes. During the last five minutes of the question-and-answer period, each candidate would have the opportunity to make a concluding statement if she or he so wished.” (page 1, para. 1.5).

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s statement, questions asked, answers given and closing statement are in Annex 2 on pages 16-26. Minister Yoo Myung-hee’s statement, questions asked, answers given and closing statement are in Annex 5 on pages 51-60. The statements have previously been reviewed in my posts and are available on the WTO webpage.

Questions are picked randomly from Members who indicated an interest in asking questions. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala received questions during the meeting from nineteen Members with another thirty-nine Members having submitted their names to ask questions of her. Minister Yoo received questions during her meeting from seventeen Members with another forty-four Members having submitted their names to ask questions of her.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s questions came from Afghanistan, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Norway, New Zealand, South Africa, European Union, Paraguay, Estonia, Australia, Latvia, Guatemala, Japan, Mongolia, Brazil, and Malaysia. The questions dealt with a range of issues including the following sample:

  • The negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on developing countries, LDCs and small vulnerable economies (SVEs).
  • How to ensure the benefits of open trade are distributed equitably?
  • What steps will you undertake to ensure a multilateral outcome at the next Ministerial?
  • Role of the Director-General (DG) in addressing lack of trust among Members.
  • Role of the DG in facilitating economic recovery and resilience.
  • What is necessary to restore functioning of a binding, two-step dispute settlement system in the WTO?
  • Do transparency and notification obligations need to be strengthened?
  • Focus in the first 100 days.
  • Your initial approach to the reform of the WTO.
  • What kind of approach and efforts would you like to make to advance the subject of e-commerce?
  • Role of plurilaterals in the WTO.
  • How to deal with the different views on special and differential treatment?
  • What are your plans relating to empowering women in the future WTO agenda?

Minister Yoo’s questions came from Guatemala, Belgium, United States, India, Germany, El Salvador, Chinese Taipei, Sri Lanka, Spain, Qatar, Lithuania, Gabon, Botswana, China, Barbados, Malaysia, and Zimbabwe. The questions dealt with a range of issues including the following sample:

  • Do you have any proposal on how to overcome the current crisis?
  • How do you plan to include measures to respect sustainable trade in an agenda focused on free trade and trade liberalization?
  • In looking at interim arbitration agreement of EU and other countries, is it appropriate for WTO resources to be used for activities that go beyond what is contemplated by the DSU?
  • How to convince Members that the multilateral trading system is still best way forward over bilateral and plurilateral trading arrangements?
  • Is there a gap in the WTO rulebook with regard to level playing field issues such as subsidies, economic action by the State and competition?
  • Do you have a multilateral solution to issues like e-commerce which are being tackled in the Joint Statement Initiatives that would be of interest to a large number of Members?
  • WTO is lagging behind in pursuing the development dimension; what is the path forward?
  • Role of DG re fighting protectionism and unilateral measures.
  • How to strike a balance between public stockholding and food security and the avoidance of unnecessary trade restrictions?
  • What is your view on the Doha Development Agenda?
  • What role the WTO can play to help drive Africa’s integration agenda?
  • What is the most important issue to achieve results?

Both candidates gave extensive answers to the questions posed while avoiding staking out a position on any issue that is highly controversial within the WTO. The answers are worth reading in their entirety. As a result the minutes of the meeting are embedded below.

WTGCM185

Each candidate in their summing up at the end of her meeting with the General Council circled back to their prepared statement. Their short summing up statements are copied below.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (page 26):

“The nature of the questions that I have heard and the nature of the discussions give me hope. Members are clearly interested in a WTO that works, in a WTO that is different from what we have now, in a WTO that shows a different face to the world. I can see it and I can feel it. And if ever I am selected as Director-General, that gives me hope that there is a foundation to work on. Before coming in here, I have spoken to several Members, but I did not really know that. From listening to all of you and fielding your questions, I now know that there is a basis to work on. And I want to thank you for it.

“And I really want to end where I began. Trade is very important for a prosperous and a recovered world in the 21st century. The WTO is at the centre of this. A renewed WTO is a mission that we must all undertake, and we need every Member, regardless of economic size, to participate in this. If we want the world to know who we are as the WTO, we have to commit. Having listened to you, I hear the commitment and I want to thank you sincerely for that.”

Minister Yoo Myung-hee (page 60):

“I spent the past few days meeting with Ambassadors and delegates in Geneva. When I listen to your views, together with the questions today, it seems that there are diverse views and priorities of Members – whether it concerns the negotiations, how to pursue development objectives and special and differential treatment, the plurilaterals or restoring the Appellate Body function. So, how can we, a dynamic group of 164 Members with different social and economic environments, come to an agreement? This brings me back to my original message. We need to rebuild trust in the WTO. How? Amid these divergent and different views of Members, I would share the commitment and hope to restoring and revitalizing the WTO.

“This pandemic has forced us to reflect upon what is needed from the multilateral trading system. Despite the current challenges, I have a firm belief in the multilateral trading system and what we can actually achieve in the future if we put our heads together and also our hearts into it. We are embarking on a new journey towards a new chapter for the WTO. Building on the past twenty-five years, when we embark on the new journey for the next twenty-five years, I am ready to provide a new leadership that will harness all the frustrations but most importantly all the hopes from Members to make the WTO more relevant, resilient and responsive for the next twenty-five years and beyond.”

Conclusion

The process that WTO Members agreed on in 2002 to promote a process for finding a candidate for a new Director-General is cumbersome, time consuming and burdensome for candidates brave enough to put their hat in the ring. To date, the 2002 process has resulted in Members agreeing by consensus on a new Director-General (2005 and 2013). The process in 2020 has worked remarkably smoothly as well despite the deep divisions in the membership and the multiple-pronged crisis facing the organization.

The two finalists bring different backgrounds and skill sets to be considered by Members. Each started strong in the General Council meetings in mid-July as can be seen from their answers to questions posed, and each has continued to impress many Members in the subsequent months. There are political considerations in the selection process of the Director-General (just as in any major leadership position of an international organization). Both candidates are getting active support of their home governments. Fortunately, the membership has two qualified and very interesting candidates to consider. Whoever emerges as the candidate most likely to achieve consensus among the Members will still face the hurdle of whether any Member (or group of Members) will block the consensus. While that seems unlikely at the present time, one never knows.

Whoever becomes the next Director-General will face the daunting challenges of an organization with all three major functions not operating as needed, deep divisions among major players and among major groups. The lack of forward movement and the lack of trust among Members will weigh heavily on the new Director-General with a narrow window before the next Ministerial Conference likely to take place next June. It is remarkable that talented individuals with long histories of accomplishments would be willing to take on the problems the WTO is weighed down with at the present time. Hopefully, the next Director-General will be known in the next three weeks.

October 8th Video discussion on WTO Director-General selection process following the announcement of two finalists

On October 8, the Washington International Trade Association (WITA) put together a short video discussion among Rufus Yerxa (current President of the National Foreign Trade Council, former Deputy Director-General of the WTO among other positions), Wendy Cutler (currently Vice President and Managing Director of the Washington, D.C. office of the Asia Society Policy Institute and former senior negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office) and me, moderated by Ken Levinson (Executive Director of WITA). The discussion dealt with the ongoing WTO Director-General selection process, what the results of the second round of consultations with Members suggest is important for the WTO Members in the next Director-General. The You Tube link to the discussion is below.

Informal Heads of Delegation Meeting at WTO confirms Nigerian and Korean candidates advance to third (final) round of consultations in selection of next Director-General

This morning’s 11 a.m. informal heads of delegation meeting in Geneva saw Ambassadors David Walker (New Zealand), Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and Harald Aspelund (Iceland) communicate the results of the second round of consultations with WTO Members to the membership. Pursuant to the procedures adopted in 2002 for the selection of the Director-General, the Chair of the General Council together with the Chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body (the “troika”) consult with each Member of the WTO to receive their preferences in successive rounds of consultations. In the second round, each Member was asked to provide two of five remaining candidates as the Member’s preferences.

As leaked yesterday, the two candidates who advance to the third round of consultations are Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Minister Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea. The selection of these two candidates was based “on the depth and breadth of preferences articulated” by Members to the troika. “The result creates an historic precedent for the WTO in that it assures that the 7th Director-General will become the first woman to lead the organization.”

The WTO press release from today (October 8) from which all quotes are taken, “WTO members narrow field of DG candidates,” can be found here, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgsel_08oct20_e.htm.

“During the DG selection processes of 2005 and 2013, breadth of support was defined as ‘the distribution of preferences across geographic regions and among the categories of members generally recognized in WTO provisions: that is (least developed countries), developing countries and developed countries.’ The Chair said he and his colleagues were guided by the practices established in these General Council proceedings and he further explained that the decisions made clear that ‘breadth of support means the larger membership’.”

The three candidates not advancing are Amb. Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya, Mr. Mohammed Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia and Dr. Liam Fox of the United Kingdom. Amb. Walker (Chair of the General Council) said “On behalf of the entire membership, I would like to express deep gratitude for their participation in this selection process. It was clear that members consider them individuals of outstanding qualifications. I am sure you will all agree with us that in participating in the selection process, the candidates have all made a significant contribution to the standing and image of the WTO.”

The third round of consultations will start October 19 and end on October 27. There will be another informal heads of delegation meeting so that Amb. Walker and his facilitators can present the results of the third round of consultations, probably on Thursday, October 29.

The Chair of the General Council will then call a General Council meeting before November 7 to present their recommendation of the candidate most likely to obtain consensus. If Members agree, that candidate becomes the next Director-General. If there is a lack of consensus, the 2002 procedures provide for the possibility of a vote.

As reviewed in my post yesterday, the two candidates who are advancing have significantly different backgrounds presenting Members with an interesting choice. See October 7, 2020, Nigerian and Korean candidates advance to final round of consultations to become next WTO Director-General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/07/nigerian-and-korean-candidates-advance-to-final-round-of-consultations-to-become-next-wto-director-general/.

While politics obviously has a role in the selection process, both candidates bring high-level government experience and an ability to work with various levels of government officials from many countries. Minister Yoo touted the fact that Korea has gone through significant economic development during her lifetime and so she has seen the needs of her country at various stages of economic development which would help her understand the needs of all WTO Members. She has also engaged in negotiations with many of the major WTO Members, including the U.S. and China. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is a development economist and has expressed an interest in various issues where working with other international organizations would be important to ensure participation by all WTO members in WTO issues (e.g., addressing the digital divide which prevents many developing and least developed countries from engaging on e-commerce; ensuring access by all Members to vaccines and therapeutics to address the COVID-19 pandemic).

While the process of selecting a new Director-General is cumbersome, it was developed after the challenges in 1999 when no consensus was reached on a single candidate to give a greater likelihood of Members reaching a consensus on candidates put forward. The procedures worked in 2005 and in 2013 and appear to be working this year.

Nigerian and Korean Candidates Advance to Final Round of Consultations to Become Next WTO Director-General

The informal Heads of Delegation meeting at which Amb. David Walker (new Zealand),who is the Chairman of the General Council and his facilitators (Chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and of the Trade Policy Review Body), will announce to the WTO membership which two of the five remaining candidates have advanced to the final round of consultations in the search for a new Director-General is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday morning (October 8). However, just as after the first round of consultations, the results have been leaked to the press by one or more Members.

Based on news stories this afternoon, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Minister Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea are the two candidates who will advance to the third and final round of consultations. Minister Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya, Minister Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia and the Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP of the United Kingdom will not advance and are expected to withdraw.

As reviewed in prior posts, Minister Yoo has had active support in her candidacy from the Korean administration and had achieved success in being one of two preferences put forward by a united European Union earlier this week. Minister Yoo’s career has been in trade throughout and she is the first woman Minister for Trade in Korea. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has been finance minister of Nigeria twice, served 25 years at the World Bank rising to the number two position and has had an important position with GAVI in recent years.

There has been much discussion of whether this selection of a Director-General would result in a woman being selected — which appears to now be a certainty — and which would be a first for the WTO. Similarly, African Members have been arguing that the position should go to an African candidate since Africa has never had a Director-General from the continent. Asia has had one Director-General in the WTO previously, but never a Korean. Minister Yoo is the third Korean trade minister to run for the Director-General post in the WTO’s short history.

It is unclear if WTO Members from Africa put forward their preferences in a uniform manner to support both African candidates who were part of the round two consultations. Some press articles have suggested that other candidates received at least some support from individual African Members. It is known that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and Minister Mohamed had support from different groups of African countries — ECOWAS and EAC respectively.

The third round of consultations will have WTO Members looking at very different candidates in terms of backgrounds and perceived strengths. Minister Yoo’s background is entirely in trade and she is from an important trading nation and has negotiating history with many of the major WTO Members. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is highly regarded, has limited trade experience (as Minister of Finance she had responsibility for Nigeria’s customs service), has deep experience in development economics and with efforts to respond to the needs of developing and least developed countries in terms of access to medical goods, including vaccines and therapeutics. While Nigeria is a large country, it is a significantly smaller trading nation than Korea. Korea is the 7th largest exporter of goods in 2019 ($542 billion) and 9th largest importer while Nigeria was 48th largest exporter ($62 billion) and was not in the top 50 importers.

Both remaining candidates are very talented and would make an interesting choice for the next Director-General. Block voting by the EU certainly was a help to Minister Yoo in her quest to advance to the third round. It will be interesting to see if the EU, the African Members or other groups vote in blocks in the third round.

The three candidates who will not move to the third round were also all very talented individuals who would have brought different skills and perspectives to the job if they had ultimately been selected.

We will learn tomorrow the timing of the third round of consultations.

Selection of WTO Director-General — Second Round of Consultations Ends Today, October 6

October 6 marks the last day of the second round of consultations by the Chairman of the General Counsel and his facilitators (Chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body) with the WTO Members. Each WTO Member has been providing the troika of Chairs with the names of two of the five remaining candidates that constitute the Member’s preference in the second round. While the date of the Heads of Delegation meeting has not yet been announced, it will likely be Thursday morning. At that time, the two candidates advancing to the final third round of consultations will be identified.

In a prior post, I had noted press articles that indicated EU members were looking to back the candidacies of the Nigerian and Korean candidates — Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Minister Yoo Myung-hee. An article from Bloomberg yesterday confirmed that at yesterday’s meeting in Brussels, EU countries had agreed to back the two candidates. See Blomberg, October 5, 2020, EU Throws Its Weight Behind Nigerian, Korean WTO-Head Contenders, https://eur04.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bloomberg.com%2Fnews%2Farticles%2F2020-10-05%2Feu-throws-its-weight-behind-nigerian-korean-wto-head-contenders&data=02%7C01%7C%7Cc25bd1089e95463bd6e108d8699846db%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637375450027528387&sdata=Lbn5YOaH6ZIm9m4b1ES91psH6rUAMz2PyfO7GomVre8%3D&reserved=0.

Hungary, which had earlier indicated it would back Minister Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya and Dr. Liam Fox of the United Kingdom, reportedly agreed to join with the other EU members. Thus, the EU is understood to have expressed preferences as a block for the Nigerian and Korean candidates.

While Africa has two candidates among the five in the second round, African nations are split on support. The six members of the East Africa Community support Kenya’s Minister Amina Mohamed while countries in west Africa (Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)) support Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

It is unclear if African Members of the WTO will list their two preferences as Okonjo-Iweala and Mohamed or will split their preferences by including one of the three other candidates along with one of the African candidates. With the EU 27 supporting the Korean candidate, lack of solidarity in Africa for its two candidates would increase the challenges for Minister Mohamed to be one of the two finalists making the third round of consultations.

There are, of course, large numbers of WTO Mrmbers in the Americas and in Asia and the Pacific, and there are European countries besides the EU’s 27. It has been assumed that each of the five remaining candidates would garner some support in each of these other areas. Block voting can deny some candidates geographical coverage in some parts of the world which can be a factor the troika consider in reducing the field from five to two.

it is nail biting time for the candidates.

An environmental read on the five candidates for the WTO Director-General slot

A British-based press publication on climate change released a story today looking at the position on climate change of the five candidates being considered in the second round of consultations at the WTO to become the next WTO Director-General. The publication, Climate House News says this about themselves, “Climate Home News is an independent news site specialising in the international politics of the climate crisis. Our London-based editorial team coordinates deep reporting from around the world on the political, economic, social and natural impacts of climate change. Our coverage of UN climate talks is essential reading.”

Today’s article can be found here: Climate Home News, 29 September 2020, African green reformer tipped to win UN trade leadership race, https://www.climatechangenews.com/2020/09/29/african-green-reformer-tipped-win-un-trade-leadership-race/.

While crediting H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea and the Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP of the United Kingdom for speaking out on the need for fisheries subsidies reform, the article singles out H.E. Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria as the two candidates who appear committed to raise the profile of climate change within the WTO if selected as the Director-General. The fifth candidate, H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia, was noted as having made no statements on climate change.

“Both women used their written candidate statements to call for environmental reform of the WTO’s trade rules, while their three opponents from Korea, the UK and Saudi Arabia, have said little about climate change.”

“Mohamed, who has held cabinet roles including foreign affairs in the Kenyan government since 2013, said the economic recovery must ‘take account’ of issues like climate change. The WTO should be reformed to ‘support our shared environmental objectives’ and encourage diffusion of clean technologies, she said.”

“Okonjo-Iweala, former finance minister for Nigeria, said that ‘the WTO appears paralysed at a time when its rule book would greatly benefit from an update to 21st century issues such as ecommerce and the digital economy, the green and circular economies’. She said she wants to reach ‘optimal complementarity between trade and the environment’.”

The article spends a fair amount of space on carbon pricing as an important initiative and notes Minister Mohamed’s comments that “the WTO could replicate carbon pricing initiatives like the EU’s ‘on a grander scale.”

Whether increasing the role of the WTO in addressing climate change is an issue of concern to many WTO Members, it certainly is to some and should be to many. Because trade and the environment is not a prominent area of ongoing WTO negotiations (other than fisheries subsidies), it is not surprising that all of the candidates seeking the Director-General position have not spoken extensively on the issue. Thus, one cannot necessarily draw the conclusions that the article suggests about three of the candidates. Being a member-driven organization, a candidate to become the next Director-General can not be faulted for focusing on the issues of stated concern by Members. Under the current WTO structure, it is not clear what influence a Director-General can have on subjects that Members will focus on.

Nonetheless, ensuring sustainable development (including how trade can help achieve global needs to address climate change) is important to businesses, workers, consumers, NGOs, and the global population. It can and should be a factor that Members of the WTO consider in who gets selected as the next Director-General — i.e., commitment to sustainable development and passion for making trade a positive contributor to solving climate change. More importantly, it must be a factor that Members consider in deciding on areas of negotiation and reform of the WTO in the months ahead.

Korean Trade Minister Travels to Europe to push her WTO candidacy; Moldovan candidate endorses Kenyan candidate

In a prior post, I had reviewed that the EU had backed all three women candidates in the first round of consultations at the WTO on who should be the next Director-General — H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of Korea; H.E. Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya; Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria — but had not backed either of the two men who advanced. See September 24, 2020, WTO Director-General selection – block voting likely to ensure next Director-General is a female, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/24/wto-director-general-selection-block-voting-likely-to-ensure-next-director-general-is-a-female/. All three women moved onto the second round of consultations along with H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia and The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP of the United Kingdom.

With the other two women candidates likely to secure most or all of the second round votes from African WTO Members, it is obviously important for Minister Yoo to continue to receive support from at least some portion of European Members as well as geographical support from Asia and the Pacific and the Americas. With Africa and the Middle East having their own candidates, it is presumably her hope to also secure some support from those areas as well. While it is understood that the EU presented their preferences in the first round of consultations on a consolidated basis, that may not be the case in the second round where at least one EU member (Hungary) has indicated they will vote independent of the EU preferences. Thus, it is not surprising that Minister Yoo and the Korean government are putting focus this week on European Members of the WTO and other missions in Geneva As reviewed in the Korea Times, “‘Minister Yoo is visiting Geneva and Sweden from Sept. 27 until Oct. 2 to seek support of WTO member states with regard to the election of the next WTO director-general,’ the ministry said in a statement, Sept. 25.” The Korea Times, September 27, 2020, Trade minister Yoo Myung-hee kicks off Europe campaign for WTO race, https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2020/09/113_296737.html.

The other piece of news reported today relevant to the WTO Director-General campaign is the endorsement of the Kenyan candidate, H.E. Amina C. Mohamed, by one of the three candidates who did not advance at the end of the first round of consultations, Moldova’s Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi. The Standard, September 27, 2020, Moldovan Candidate Tudor Ulianovschi endorses Amina Mohamed for top WTO job, https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/branding-voice/article/2001387896/tudor-ulianovschi-endorses-amina-mohamed-for-top-wto-job. “He announced on twitter, ‘For the final round of @wto DG selection, two candidates will compete against each other to the benefit of the multilateral trade system. I am pleased to support my friend @AMB_A_Mohammed for the role of DG @wto. We have a similar experience (Ambassador&Minister), diplomacy, and character.'”

The second round of consultations with WTO Members to decide which two of the remaining five candidates will advance to the third round of consultations started on September 24 and will end on October 6. All five candidates and their governments are engaged in shoring up support for their candidacy, with the identification of the two remaining candidates likely to be announced on October 7 or 8.

The third round of consultations, when the candidate viewed as most likely to achieve consensus among the WTO Members, will get started later in October with a hoped for selection of the next Director-General completed by November 7.. Should there be a lack of consensus for the candidate emerging from the third round of consultations, the procedures for selecting Directors-General agreed to at the end of 2002 permits resort to voting if consensus cannot be achieved.

Additional Materials on Three of the Remaining Five Candidates for WTO Director-General post

While WTO Members are engaged in the second round of consultations with the Chairman of the General Council and his facilitators on which two of the remaining five candidates receive each Member’s preference, the candidates continue to reach out to Members and make media contacts. The second round of consultations started on September 24 and will continue until October 6 with a Heads of Delegation meeting likely held one or two days later to announce the two finalists and the timing of the third round of consultations.

The links below are for selected articles or news clips for three of the five remaining candidate and include news interviews.

The Bloomberg piece for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala in not directly WTO related though the WTO Director-General selection process is mentioned. The interview is a joint discussion with Australia’s former Prime Minister Julia Gillard looking at the opportunities for women in leadership in times of crisis.

In Bloomberg’s interview of Minister Yoo, Minister Yoo goes through a number of challenges facing the WTO and answers questions on U.S.-China tensions and responds to a question on whether Japan will oppose her nomination.

Dr. Fox’s interview with the Global Trade Review addresses his interest in the Director-General position, responds to a question about whether his candidacy is serious and answers a question on the relevance of Brexit. His interview with CNBC Africa was wide ranging and he stressed the need for a recommitment by Members to a common enterprise, the need to get the dispute settlement system functioning again. Dr. Fox talked about the needs for Micro-, Small and Medium businesses for all Members, and reviewed the actions he would take to improve the focus on these commercial operators. He also talked about the need for verification of information notified by parties, citing subsidy notifications. He discussed the need to obtain greater liberalization in trade in services and spent some time on e-commerce/digital trade and reviewed how online trade can be helpful to better integrating women into trade. He also talked about the regional trade agreement among African countries and the use of plurilaterals where multilaterals are not presently doable.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria):

Bloomberg, Australia’s Gillard, Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala on Women in Leadership, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2020-09-24/gillard-okonjo-iweala-on-women-in-leadership-video.

H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea):

Bloomberg, Korean Minister Vows to Revitalize WTO if Elected as Chief, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2020-09-25/korean-minister-vows-to-revitalize-wto-if-elected-as-chief-video.

The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP (United Kingdom):

Global Trade Review, September 24, Exclusive interview: Liam Fox talks WTO bid, calls his backing of Brexit a ‘red herring’, https://www.gtreview.com/news/global/exclusive-interview-liam-fox-talks-wto-bid-calls-his-backing-for-brexit-a-red-herring/.

CNBC Africa, September 25, 2020, UK’s Liam Fox Shares His Vision for Global Trade, https://www.cnbcafrica.com/videos/2020/09/25/in-conversation-with-liam-fox-on-his-vision-for-global-trade/.

Video discussion on WTO Director-General selection process

On September 24, the Washington International Trade Association (WITA) put together a short video discussion among Rufus Yerxa (current President of the National Foreign Trade Council, former Deputy Director-General of the WTO among other positions), Wendy Cutler (currently Vice President and Managing Director of the Washington, D.C. office of the Asia Society Policy Institute and former senior negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office) and me, moderated by Ken Levinson (Executive Director of WITA). The discussion dealt with the ongoing WTO Director-General selection process, what can be drawn from the first round of consultations and what that may mean for the current second round of consultations. The You Tube link to the discussion is below.

WTO Director-General selection — block voting likely to ensure next Director-General is a female

As the World Trade Organization starts the second round of consultations with Members today to continue to winnow down the list of candidates to move forward to the third round in mid-October, the likelihood of block preferences by countries within the EU and from Africa would seem to guarantee that the two candidates remaining at the end of the second round of consultations are two of the three women candidates — Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea and H.E. Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya.

First, African Members of the WTO have been arguing since before the start of the selection process that it was time for a Director-General to be from Africa. With two of the five remaining candidates being from Africa, if African Members provide as their preferences the two remaining African candidates, those two candidate will have a large support base before one looks at the rest of the world. There are currently some 45 WTO Members from Africa. While it is always possible for Members from Africa to support only one of the two African candidates and to pick a second preference from outside of the continent, it is likely that most Members will provide both African candidates as preferences to improve the chances of an African candidate in fact being selected as the next Director-General.

Second, press articles in recent days have indicated that the 27 European Union countries had given their preferences for the same candidates in round one of the consultations and that had led to three of the four candidates they supported advancing — the three women candidates from Nigeria, Kenya and the Republic of Korea. They had not expressed preferences for either of the two male candidates who advanced, H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia and the Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP of the United Kingdom. While WTO Members are obviously not limited to prefer in later rounds individuals they expressed preferences for in earlier rounds, it is expected that the EU countries (with limited exceptions) will agree on two of the three women candidates for Round 2. This would be consistent with their apparent desire to see a candidate from a different geographical area than recent DGs and for a candiate who is female supporting gender equality objectives of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. There is one known likely exception to the EU expressing preferences as a block approach. Specifically, the press has indicated that Hungary intends to identify its preferences as H.E. Mohamed of Kenya and Dr. Fox of the United Kingdom.

It is expected that each of the women candidates will have reasonable support in other parts of the world as well. With Dr. Seade out of the running, the Americas has no geographic candidate and will certainly provide a fair portion of their preferences to one or two of the women candidates. Similarly, Asia and the Pacific will split preferences among the five remaining candidates ensuring some additional support for each of the women.

While H.E. Al-Tuwaijri and Dr. Fox will certainly receive support in round two of the consultations from a significant number of Members, if the EU and Africa vote largely in blocks, it is hard to imagine how either of them advances to the final round of consultations.

Depending on the block preference approach of Africa and the EU, the two candidates who advance will either be the two African candidates or one of the African candidates and the Korean trade minister.

My assumption is that the third round will be a face off between H.E. Mohamed and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. We will know in early October.

WTO Director-General selection process — what do results from first round of consultations suggest are key criteria for WTO Members in next Director-General?

Last week, five of eight candidates advanced to the second round of consultations when the WTO’s Chairman of the General Council reviewed with the membership the results of the first round of consultations. The second round of consultations starts this week. WTO Members’ preferences in the second round will result in the field being reduced from five to two candidates before the third round selects the candidate viewed as most likely to achieve consensus among the WTO Members. The selection process should end by November 7, 2020

Can anything be gleaned from the results of the first round results?

  1. The three candidates who did not advance

The three candidates eliminated were Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri of Mexico, Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh of Egypt and Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldova.

Dr. Seade has had personal involvement with the GATT during the Uruguay Round and was not only Mexico’s Ambassador to the GATT but then a Deputy Director-General of the GATT at the end of the Uruguay Round and one of the original Deputy Directors-General when the WTO was set up in 1995.

Mr. Mamdouh similarly has had a long and distinguished history with the GATT and WTO that stretches back to the Uruguay Round and continued in various capacities within the Secretariat ending with a sixteen year stint as Director of the Trade in Services and Investment Division.

Thus, if one was putting primacy on technical expertise or a deep understanding of the origins of the WTO (arguably relevant to current crisis issues like the impasse over the Appellate Body), then one would have expected both of these individuals to get past the round one consultations. As they didn’t, it follows that depth of technical capability was not a driving consideration for Members in the first round of consultations.

Although Dr. Seade has held various government positions including Under Secretary for North America and chief negotiator for the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement), he has never served as a Minister (Secretary) in the Mexican government. Moreover, Mexico, while part of North America, is typically referred to as part of Latin America. Since the last Director-General was from Brazil (also included in “Latin America”), this fact could have been viewed as a negative for Dr. Seade.

For the enormous history that Mr. Mamdouh has had with the WTO, he never served as either an Ambassador or took the position of Minister for the Egyptian government. Thus, to the extent Members were putting primacy on candidates who had served in a high political position for their host government, Mr. Mamdouh would have been viewed as not meeting that criteria.

Amb. Ulianovschi served both as Moldova’s Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein (including being Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the WTO) and later served as a Minister of Foreign Affairs. Thus, he has both familiarity with WTO issues and had a prior senior political position. Since Moldova is part of Europe and most Directors-General of the GATT and WTO have been from Europe, this could have been viewed as a negative for Amb. Ulianovschi (though the same was also true for Dr. Liam Fox of the United Kingdom who has advanced to the second round of consultations).

2. The five candidates who have advanced to round two

Of the five candidates who have advanced, all have served as a Minister in their home government with four — Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, H.E. Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya, H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia and the Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP of the United Kingdom having served two terms or in two different Minister positions. The fifth, H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea is the current Minister for Trade in Korea.

The differentiation between those who advanced and those who didn’t thus seems to hinge in significant part of the perception of political weight a candidate would bring based in part on the senior government role each has played. While Amb. Ulianovschi of Moldova did not advance and yet was a Minister, his being from a European country may have been the distinguishing factor. He was also the youngest candidate by more than a decade which may have been another factor for some.

Moving into the second round of consultations, what considerations may influence who makes the next cut?

The Chairman of the General Council indicated that WTO Members viewed all eight candidates as highly qualified and respected. This means for many Members the important factors may be less about the qualifications but more about geographical diversity of the membership. The Procedures adopted at the end of 2002 for the selection of Directors-General has a paragraph dealing with the representativeness of candidates (WT/L/509 at para. 13):

“Where Members are faced in the final selection with equally meritorious
candidates, they shall take into consideration as one of the factors the desirability of reflecting the diversity of the WTO’s membership in successive appointments to the post of Director-General.”

As there has not been a Director-General from Africa or from the Middle East and only one from Asia, geographical diversity could have aided four of the five candidates who advanced to the second round of consultations.

In addition, no GATT or WTO Director-General has been a woman to date. One of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is gender equality (SDG 5). Three of the candidates who have advanced are female. A fourth, Dr. Liam Fox, committed to ensuring that half of the senior WTO Secretariat would be women if he were selected as the next Director-General.

While all eight candidates indicated their preference for the selection to be of the best qualified candidate, it is certainly likely that other criteria will weigh in the second and third round consultation process which leads to the selection of a single candidate.

The three women candidates

Among the three women candidates, H.E. Mohamed has a proven track record on trade within the WTO and as Chair of the 2015 Nairobi Ministerial. H.E. Yoo’s career has been entirely in trade, and she has dealt with each of the U.S., China and the EU in her trade capacity for Korea. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has never been Minister of Trade though her role (twice) as Minister of Finance for Nigeria included some trade-related areas (customs, trade facilitation) and she had a distinguished career at the World Bank and is now active in various organization relevant to the recovery from COVID-19 such as GAVI (focused on getting vaccines to countries in need).

Obviously two of the three women candidates have serious trade/WTO backgrounds. The third is often viewed as having the largest political profile. Depending on how large the preference is for a strong leader with significant political experience or a strong leader with significant understanding of the trade problems before the WTO, this could lead to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and H.E. Mohamed as being the top two women candidates or H.E. Mohamed and H.E. Yoo filling that role.

Possible wild cards that could hurt one or two of the women candidates are (1) the ongoing Japan-South Korea conflict that H.E. Yoo has been involved in; (2) China’s view towards H.E. Yoo if concerned about whether China will maintain a Deputy-Director General slot going forward if an Asian candidate is selected as the next Director-General; (3) the late disclosure that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is a dual Nigerian-U.S. citizen and whether that is problematic for China or other Members.

The two remaining male candidates

It is unlikely that Dr. Fox makes it to the third round based simply on the Paragraph 13 indication of importance of geographical diversity and the long history of European Directors-General. He would bring a unique viewpoint to the Director-General position being the only candidate who has repeatedly stood for election in his country. His commitment to ensure half of the senior WTO Secretariat are women may also be a plus for him if only one of the women candidates advances.

Similarly, unless the membership decides that what they want as a Director-General is someone who will move the organization to a more business-like functioning approach, it is unlikely that H.E. Al-Tuwaijri makes it past round two. He has the advantage of being from an area (Middle East) that has not had a Director-General. Moreover, he has worked closely with G20 countries which could be a plus if only one of the women candidates advances to round three.

Likely outcome of Round Two Consultations

The second round of consultations starts on September 24 and concludes on October 6. At the meeting of the Heads of Delegation that follows the close of the consultations (probably October 8), it is likely that H.E. Amina C. Mohamed and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala advance to the third round of consultations.

Who will likely emerge as the sole remaining candidate after Round Three?

If H.E. Mohamed and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala advance beyond round two, the selection of a candidate most likely to achieve consensus among the WTO Members in round three will depend on whether Members prefer a candidate who has a record of achieving results in the WTO or prefer a candidate with a large record of in-country reform and of achievement within the World Bank and ability to focus Members on post COVID-19 recovery needs.

Either would be an interesting choice and would bring great energy to what will be a very challenging job at a time of multiple crises for the WTO and concerns about its continued relevance. Based on what seems to have mattered in Round One of the consultations, I would predict that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will be the next Director-General with the one caveat of whether her dual citizenship with the U.S. in addition to her home country of Nigeria becomes problematic in fact. If the caveat applies, then look for H.E. Amina C. Mohamed to be the next Director-General.

Race for becoming the next Director-General of the WTO — five candidates advance; three are asked to withdraw

At a Heads of Delegation meeting held at the World Trade Organization this morning (11:00 a.m. Geneva time), the Chairman of the General Council, Amb. David Walker, and his facilitators, Amb. Dacio Castillo of Honduras (Chairman of the Dispute Settlement Body) and Amb. Harald Aspelund of Iceland (Chairman of the Trade Policy Review Body) informed the WTO Members that their consultations with Members had identified the five candidates (of eight total) who had received the broadest and deepest support and hence would be moving on to round two of the consultation process.

The five candidates who move to the second round of consultations include (in order that they were put forward as a candidate by their government):

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria;

H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea;

H.E. Amina C. Mohamed, of Kenya;

H.E. Mohammed Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia;

The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP of the United Kingdom.

The three candidates who have been asked to withdraw based on the results of the first round of consultations include:

Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri of Mexico;

Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh of Egypt;

Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldova.

The WTO press release can be found here, WTO members narrow field of DG candidates, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/hod_18sep20_e.htm

A field that had originally consisted of five men and three women with two being Europeans, three being Africans, one being from the Middle East, one being Asian, and one being North American (Latin) is now a field of three women and two men with one from Europe, two from Africa, one from the Middle East and one from Asia.

As the biographies posted on the WTO webpage and the candidates prepared statement to the General Council, subsequent press conference, and interviews, webinars and other press report make clear, the eight candidates were all highly qualified individuals with a good grasp of issues currently facing the WTO and the challenges of reform. This fact and that all eight candidates were respected by the Membership was confirmed by Amb. Walker at today’s Heads of Delegation meeting.

The elimination of the three candidates removes two with the longest engagement with the GATT/WTO — Dr. Jesus Seade and Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh and the youngest candidate, Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi.

Of the five remaining, only two have extensive WTO/trade experience — H.E. Amina C. Mohamed, H.E. Yoo Myung-hee, although Dr. Liam Fox served as the U.K. Secretary of State for trade for a period of time as well and H.E. Al-Tuwaijri has a broad portfolio with trade issues included. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has extensive experience as Nigeria’s Finance Minister (with customs responsibilities) and as a senior official at the World Bank.

Second Round of Consultations

During the Heads of Delegation meeting, Amb. Walker announced that the second round of consultations would start on September 24 and run until October 6 after which there will be another Heads of Delegation meeting to review which two candidates advance to the third and final round of consultations.

During the first round, each Member was asked to identify four candidates as preferences. During the second round, each Member will be asked to identify two candidates as preferences. The three Ambassadors who are conducting the consultations with Members will then announce the results further narrowing the field from the current five to just two candidates.

Third Round of Consultations

The timing of the third round of consultations will be announced at the next Heads of Delegation meeting when the second round is completed. It is anticipated that the third round and its results will be completed ahead of November 7 consistent with the procedures adopted by the General Council back in December 2002. Procedures for the Appointment of Directors-General, WT/L/509. The results of the third round of consultations will be the candidate that is viewed as most likely to achieve consensus from the Membership. If consensus is likely, a General Council meeting will be called to confirm the selection. If consensus is not achieved, the process forward is unclear but can include taking a vote instead of pursuing consensus.

Conclusion

The selection process to date is running smoothly. The WTO was fortunate that so many talented individuals were willing to step forward to seek to become the next Director-General of the WTO and go through the grueling process that has characterized the first three months. Congratulations to the five candidates who advance. Heartfelt thanks go out to the talented candidates whose run is now ended.

The procedures adopted in 2002 seem overly complicated and time consuming to many who look in from the outside. Complicated and time consuming the procedures certainly are. However, the procedures were adopted in an effort to have Members focus on the positive question – who is your preference — and avoid Members politically committing to who was unacceptable as had happened in 1999.

Let’s hope that the remainder of the selection process proceeds smoothly and without incident.

WTO Chairman of the General Council to Announce Outcome of First Round of Consultations on the Candidates for Director-General this Friday (18 September 2020)

The Chairman of the General Council, Amb. David Walker (New Zealand), emailed the heads of delegations today that there would be an informal meeting of the Heads of Delegation on Friday 18 September 2020 at 11 a.m. (Geneva) at which Amb. Walker with his two facilitators (Amb. Castillo of Honduras, Chairman of the Dispute Settlement Body; Amb. Aspelund of Iceland, Chairman of the Trade Policy Review Body) would “report to the membership on the outcome of the first round of consultations, as required under the Procedures.” Since 7 September until today, the three Chairs have held confessionals with delegations to learn which four of the eight candidates for the position of Director-General of the WTO each Member supports. After compiling the information received, Amb. Walker and his facilitators will determine which five candidates have the best chance at achieving consensus. The three candidates not included in that list will be asked to withdraw. The five candidates who go on to Round 2 of the consultations will be identified at the informal meeting this Friday.

Amb. Walker will also announce when the second round of consultations will commence. During the second round, Members will be asked to present the names of two candidates whom the individual Member supports. When the consultations are concluded, the Chairman of the General Council and his facilitators will again review the results and inform the Membership of which two candidates have been viewed as most likely to achieve consensus and hence will move on to the third round of consultations. The other three candidates will be asked to withdraw.

The third round of consultations will then be conducted to find the candidate that, based on Members information to Amb. Walker and his facilitators, is viewed as most likely to achieve consensus.

If Members agree that the candidate has the support of the Membership, the Chairman of the General Council will call a General Council meeting at which the selection can be confirmed by consensus.

It is anticipated that all three rounds of consultations will be concluded by November 7.

Today’s email from Amb. Walker is embedded below.

09-18-HoDs-convening-notice-first-round

Race for WTO Director-General — additional material on The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP (United Kingdom)

The two month period for candidates for the position of Director-General of the World Trade Organization to make themselves known to the WTO Members ends today, September 7, 2020. The Chairman of the General Council along with the Chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body will now start the process of holding “confessionals” with WTO Members to receive in confidence the four candidates whom each Member believes could generate consensus among the membership as part of the first round of reducing the candidates from eight to five. Two other rounds will follow to reduce the candidates from five to two and then from two to one.

Today I review some other press articles about the candidate from the United Kingdom to provide additional perspective on important issues or the candidate’s approach to the position of Director-General if selected. The other seven candidates were reviewed previously. Yesterday, I posted material about H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia), the day before on H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya), on September 4 on H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea), on September 3 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 6, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/06/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-h-e-mohammad-moziad-al-tuwaijri-saudi-arabia/; September 5, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/05/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-h-e-amina-c-mohamed-kenya/; 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.

As noted above, today’s post looks at a few articles featuring The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP from the United Kingdom, the eighth and final candidate nominated for the position of Director-General.

  1. The Asean Post, September 5, 2020, Pandemic Is ‘Kiss of Death’ For Managed Trade, https://theaseanpost.com/article/pandemic-kiss-death-managed-trade.

“The coronavirus pandemic has heaped pressure on the troubled World Trade Organization (WTO), a WTO leadership candidate said, warning the crisis could spell the end of rules-based international trade altogether.

“Liam Fox, Britain’s first post-Brexit international trade secretary and one of eight candidates vying to become the WTO’s next director-general (DG), voiced concern that countries might turn their backs on its multilateral trading model.

“‘The reaction of some countries to the COVID emergency will be to seek solace in protectionism and to believe that they will get more resilience by … closing themselves off, if you like, from the global economy,’ he said Thursday in an interview.

“‘Exactly the opposite I believe is true,’ he explained during a conversation using the video link Zoom, insisting that countries will find more security by opening up and ensuring diversity of supply.

“‘For the rules-based trading system, COVID could be the kiss of life if we embrace the right policies – or the kiss of death if we don’t.'”

2. Government of the United Kingdom, Department for International Trade, 19 August 2020, Liam Fox pledges half his team will be women if he is the WTO DG, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/liam-fox-pledges-half-his-team-will-be-women-if-he-is-the-wto-dg.

“Dr Liam Fox has pledged that women will make up at least half of his senior leadership team if he is appointed the next Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“The UK has nominated former International Trade Secretary Dr Fox to be a candidate to replace current Director General Roberto Azevedo who stepped down this month after seven years.

“Dr Fox, the only elected politician in the running for the role, believes changes need to be made to attract more women into senior trade roles at the WTO. He states:

  • “Women’s economic empowerment through trade can only continue with widespread commitment to advancing the WTO and rules-based trading systems
  • “There is a need for the WTO to embrace the ‘talents, innovation and creativity’ of women to ensure it can lift another one billion people out of poverty
  • “Thirty years of progress is under threat from rising levels of unilateral actions and protectionism and those bearing the economic impact will disproportionately be women

“Dr Fox believes securing the input of women at a senior level at the WTO will help reduce the many barriers women face in accessing trading opportunities.

He said:

“‘As someone who trained and practised as a medical doctor I was used to half, and sometimes more, of my colleagues being female. But, despite real progress being made, women continue to face disproportionate barriers in accessing trading opportunities and markets due to discriminatory attitudes, poor conditions and harassment as well as unequal access to inputs such as credit and land.’

“‘And, as we look around us at the rising levels of unilateral actions and protectionism, we know that the remarkable achievement of the last three decades is under threat and that those bearing the brunt will be women.’

“Dr Fox believes the WTO and rules-based trading systems have created opportunities for women in both developed and developing countries which will be key to helping the global economy recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“In 2016, McKinsey estimated that creating more opportunities for women to work, including in export-led sectors, could add $12 trillion to the global economy by 2025.

“Dr Fox said:

“‘What could be more counterproductive than failing to utilize the talents, innovation and creativity of half the planet’s population? Women’s economic empowerment through trade can and has played a key role in creating political stability and so the conditions for wider economic progress. This matters to all of us, wherever we are.’

“Currently, neither the Director General nor any of the four Deputy Director Generals at the WTO are female. The latest diversity breakdown of the WTO secretariat shows that of the 24 staff members in the most senior grades, only five were female.

Dr Fox said:

“‘To attract more women into the architecture of trade, we need to make changes at all levels.’

“‘We need more input for women, by women if the WTO is to play its part in taking another one billion people out of extreme poverty. That is why, if I am successful in my candidacy, women will account for at least half of my senior leadership team.'”

3. Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, September 2, 2020, Fox: Congress should leverage TPA renewal to resolve WTO appellate impasse, https://insidetrade.com/trade/fox-congress-should-leverage-tpa-renewal-resolve-wto-appellate-impasse.

The article reviews statements by Dr. Fox that his political thinking would identify outreach to the U.S. Congress after the upcoming election as a way to make progress in resolving the impasse on the WTO’s Appellate Body. Dr. Fox opines that the renewal of trade promotion authority (“TPA”) in the front half of 2021 gives Congress significant say on trade matters which could be used to find solutions on the Appellate Body impasse.

4.  Chatham House, 10 August 2020, In Conversation with The Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP: Candidate for Director-General of the World Trade Organization, https://www.chathamhouse.org/event/conversation-rt-hon-dr-liam-fox-mp-candidate-director-general-world-trade-organization.

Chatham House has conducted interviews with each of the candidates for Director-General. The session with Dr. Fox was held on August 10, 2020 and was on the record. My notes of some of the questions asked and of Dr. Fox’s responses are contained below.

Q:  You are a free trader.  Could you share your philosophy about international trade?  What is your vision of trade?

A:  One of the great benefits of international trade is its contribution to moving one billion people out of poverty in a generation, one of the greatest accomplishment in history.  We live in a very interdependent and interconnected world.  Trade is not an end in itself but a means to spread prosperity around the world which leads to security.  If countries try to block trade, there are consequences such as mass migration of peoples.

Q:  How do you deal with the view that many people in developed world feel that trade has undermined their prosperity?

A:  Such views flow from a failure to understand the benefits that come from free and open trade.  In developed countries we take benefits of trade for granted and simply look at the downside costs.  If you consider benefits to consumers from trade, the benefits include a much broader selection of goods and services at lower prices.  Countries always have the trade off between trade liberalization and protectionism.  Those seeking protection may have better lobbyists, but they don’t have better products.  Typically trade ministers don’t mention consumers at all when discussing trade policies.  Yet that is one of the basic advantages of trade – greater choice, lower prices.

Q:  What are the top three challenges you would face if selected as the next Director-General?

A: Dr. Fox views there are different types of issues facing the WTO.  The most important issue in his view is to get Members to reconnect with the vision of a shared endeavor.  One of the dangers of undermining the multilateral system is the resulting free-for-all that would result among countries which will hurt most countries including major countries like the United Kingdom and Germany.  Secondly, there are a host of practical issues – restoring the appellate body would be one. Without the ability to enforce rights and obligations, the WTO is denying Members one of the value added elements of membership. Other practical issues include dealing with and recovery from the COVID crisis and how we treat our members.  At the time of the webinar with Chatham House, Dr. Fox had done 72 bilaterals with Members. There is a common view that small members who are a nuisance get listened to as do the large members. However, the rest of the 164 Members don’t feel that they do get listened to. This is a big problem for the WTO.  For the organization to function well, the Members need trust among themselves. For Member who don’t feel that their views are being listened to, the trust breaks down.

Q:  Members will be much more involved in their own economies post-COVID.  What can WTO do to get ahead of this situation?

A:  Governments will be much more concerned with domestic issues in the post-COVID world.  The focus on domestic needs will potentially lead to more protectionism, greater subsidies and other trade distorting measures. The key point for Members and the WTO is the resilience of the multilateral system.  What we have learned during the COVID pandemic is that the way we have organized global value chains has shifted from a structure of resilience to one of efficiency. The world will likely get some rebalancing of global value chains to improve resilience. The role of the WTO is to make the case openly and constructively that resilience is to be found in greater diversity of supply, not from massive onshoring or attempting to go it alone.  If a country onshores everything, the country potentially will be more vulnerable in another crisis.  During the COVID pandemic, one can see many elements of global trade that have been disrupted.  Vessels ended up in the far east disrupting timing of the movement of goods. With far fewer passenger flights, there has been less air cargo which has raised costs. The lock down in countries has led to less government work on various trade related ares (e.g., certifications).  Yet all of these problems we have seen during the pandemic are not technical in nature but rather political.  That is the reason Dr. Fox believes that the next Director-General of the WTO needs to have a political background.  Many issues will be sorted out in capitals based on political will and not in technical discussions in Geneva.

Q:  How would you engage the big players, like the U.S., China and the EU?

A:  Engaging the major players is about getting the political commitment from them to wok within the system.  What their voters want is a successful economy. In Dr. Fox’s view, a successful economy is enhanced by open trade.  In terms of the US-China dispute, typically disputes end when costs become too great for the disputants to sustain.  In a global environment like existed in 2018 and much of 2019 where growth was occurring, costs may have been sustainable by the U.S. and China.  Dr. Fox believes that the costs are less likely to be sustainable in the post-COVID world.  If true, one would expect there would be increased internal pressures to come to a compromise in the two countries.

Q:  UNCTAD has confirmed a major contraction of trade during the pandemic. What is most important for the WTO to do to facilitate dismantling trade barriers?

A:  The first task for the WTO and the next Director-General is to deal with the COVID export-restriction measures.  In Dr. Fox’s view, nothing is as permanent as temporary measures entered during a crisis.  The WTO needs to improve notifications (export restrictions or other barriers). Dr. Fox is worried how existing export barriers on medical goods may apply to vaccines when they are developed.  Moreover, many countries are dependent on open trade to avoid starvation.  Must understand of where we differ from the end of the financial crisis.  During the financial crisis only 0.7% of G20 trade was subject to trade restrictions. In 2018 more than 10% of G20 trade was covered by trade restrictions.  This change is a major problem. The G20 countries have to lead by example in terms of eliminating trade restrictions.  Getting an understanding that we are in a bad place and likely to worsen is important.  We cannot have business as usual.

Q: As the next Director-General, if selected, would you try to pick a particular sector (e.g., digital trade) to make progress?

A:  Dr. Fox believes that the next Director-General needs to look at connected problems – trade crisis, COVID crisis and environmental crisis — and see where the crises intersect.  Fisheries subsidies is all about sustainability.  The WTO needs to get NGOs and the young people who are concerned to put pressure on their governments.  As stated before, it is not just what happens in Geneva that is important but what happens in capitals.  An Environmental Goods Agreement is another potentially important issue.

Q:  The EU has been talking about a border carbon tax/tariff.  Where should WTO stand on carbon border adjustment mechanisms?

A:  This is going to be a big issue for the WTO.  For developed countries, a price should be paid to achieve reduced carbon levels.  The difficulty will come in the concept of a green subsidy.  If the subsidy becomes distortive in areas like agriculture, that will be problematic for many Members.  Then again the question of a carbon border adjustment mechanism is a political issue.  If we want to see environmental objectives met there will be a price to pay.

Conclusion

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 Dr. Fox 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.

Race for WTO Director-General — additional material on H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia)

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. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya), the day before on H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea), on September 3 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 5, 2020:  Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/05/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-h-e-amina-c-mohamed-kenya/; 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. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri from Saudi Arabia, the seventh candidate nominated.

  1. Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, August 17, 2020, Saudi DG candidate aims to quantify and deliver outcomes at the WTO, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/saudi-dg-candidate-aims-quantify-and-deliver-outcomes-wto.

Inside U.S. Trade conducted interviews with each of the eight candidates for the Director-General position. The publication’s write-up of its interview with Minister Al-Tuwaijri was posted on August 17th. As reviewed in earlier posts, Minister Al-Tuwaijri brings a business approach to the position of Director-General if selected.

“‘My delivery-oriented approach is all about regaining trust and regaining confidence in the organization. And I am a great believer that if that’s the case, I think the big powers – the big countries – will go back to negotiation,’ he told Inside U.S. Trade in an interview on Monday.”

His first priority if selected as the Director-General would be to do a review of the challenges the WTO faces to identify priorities for addressing by the Members, but noted Members viewed fixing the dispute settlement system and bringing life back to the negotiating function as two broad agenda issues.

Minister Al-Tuwaijri views an approach that includes developing information that shows the effects of particular policies or actions on Members as critical to helping solve various problems including how special and differential treatment is applied and various Chinese practices that are causes of the U.S.-China tensions.

2.  Chatham House, August 17, 2020, In Conversation with H.E. Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri, https://www.chathamhouse.org/file/conversation-he-mohammad-maziad-al-tuwaijri.

Chatham House has done a series of webinars with each of the candidates vying for the WTO Director-General position. On August 17, Chatham House featured Minister Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia. What follows are my notes on some of the questions asked and Minister Al-Tuwaijri’s responses.

Q:  What is your overarching philosophy of international trade and your vision for the WTO as a 21st century organization?

A:  Recovery from COVID-19 will be different for each country and each region.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri has reviewed the stimulus programs put in place by various governments to cushion the economic effects of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, and he designed the stimulus plan for Saudi Arabia. There are questions of whether the stimulus provided will be sufficient and how quickly economies will rebound.  The economic uncertainty and unpredictability is harmful to business activity and investment.  Looking at the WTO, there is no question that reform is needed.  But the question is what type of reform is needed.  Another question is what type of candidate is needed (an insider or someone with a fresh set of eyes).  Minister Al-Tuwaijri views himself as the right candidate.  The WTO faces many challenges. Digital trade is a game changer, but there are currently no WTO rules.  The WTO has accomplished relatively little in its first 25 years.  The WTO faces challenges on all three pillars — negotiations, disputes, and notifications and transparency.  There are increased tensions geopolitically.  The WTO must in Minister Al-Tuwaijri’s view go back to its core principles.  In G20 one of the objectives has been to gather political will of the G20 countries to support reform at the WTO. 

Q:  What are the three most important challenges that the WTO faces?

A:  For Minister Al-Tuwaijri, the three pillars of the WTO — negotiations, transparency, disputes — are interconnected.  However, the root cause of the WTO current situation is the failure of the negotiating function to provide results.  If the negotiating process can be improved, WTO Members can regain trust. As Director-General, Minister Al-Tuwaijri would start a process where the WTO can identify early warning signs that negotiations are not proceeding.  On transparency, the WTO needs to understand why countries are not as transparent as required by the WTO.  If the reason is technical, such as lack of infrastructure in certain Members, then the WTO need to address through technical assistance.  If the issue is really political, the Director-General needs to do outreach to capitals. Similarly, if rules need to be modified, the WTO needs to address that as well.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri believes the next Director-General needs to ask the tough questions to identify the root causes of issues before the WTO Members try to fix the issues.  The next Director-General can facilitate the WTO Members making some successes to show the organization can move forward and be relevant.  But unless the WTO adopts an holistic approach to the needs and causes, the WTO will be back to the same dysfunctional state in the future.

Q:  What would you do in the first 100 days?  You have mentioned creating a delivery unit in the Director-General’s office and shifting to annual Ministerials. Are these some of the actions you would take in the first 100 days?

A:  In Minister Al-Tuwaijri’s view, the intensity of trade-relevant events is happening frequently which requires more frequent Ministerial meetings.  But having more meetings is not an end in itself. The key is how to prepare for the meetings, how to make the meetings more impactful.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri would want to include voices of the business community within the Ministerial.  In his first 100 days as Director-General, Minister Al-Tuwaijri would engage with all members to understand their views on issues. For example, he would look at ideas around the appellate body impasse (Amb. Walker’s proposal, the MPIA) and discuss why these proposals haven’t resolved the impasse.  He would complete the deep dive into all matters pending before the WTO and potential reform issues and tracking the root causes. This would be important to do in the first 100 days.

Q:  On the politics of trade, re US and China, the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said that it is important for the next Director-General to understand that large state-run economies aren’t adequately disciplined under existing WTO rules. Do you agree?

A:  Both the United States and China are important members of the WTO.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri was pleased to see that the two countries were able to reach a Phase 1 agreement which shows they can negotiate some of their differences.  The WTO needs both countries to go back to negotiations.  The WTO is a Member-driven organization, so what gets negotiated is a matter of Members agreeing.  It is clear that resolving the tensions between the two Members matters to businesses in both countries.  If selected as the next Director-General, Minister Al-Tuwaijri would encourage both countries to go back to negotiations within the WTO.

Q:  How do you plan to fold trade sustainable development goals (SDGs) into WTO reform program?

A:  Minister Al-Tuwaijri indicated that he was privileged to implement the SDGs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  He believes it would be helpful to have some unified definitions and fresh thoughts on the SDG issues.  There is ongoing work within the WTO on some of the SDGs, and many members are working on the issues.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri believes that addressing SDGs in the WTO, like many other issues, goes to how do Members implement objectives and measure progress.  Only way that progress was made in Saudi Arabia was to map SDGs and the Saudi 2030 program and connect the dots. Minister Al-Tuwaijri would look forward to working with WTO Members to address SDGs as appropriate in the WTO reform program.

Q:  on deglobalization, what are best steps DG can take to address the problem?  With export restriction measures and subsidy measures from Pandemic response, does this make WTO more relevant?

A:  Minister Al-Tuwaijri understands nations responding to the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic with panic and restrictive measures.  He believes that the pandemic provides the WTO membership a huge opportunity.  Every crisis teaches us something.  The pandemic provides an opportunity for the WTO to be more relevant.  The question is how.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri belives that the WTO needs to do an impact analysis of all the actions taken.  As Director-General, he would undertake that analysis.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri stated that the WTO is still needed.  He has seen that in the G20 process where the G20 countries have talked about the need for reform in the WTO and the G20 support for reform.  It is important to evaluate whether the reform ideas are doable and doable in a timely manner. Minister Al-Tuwaijri believes that there are many issues that can be resolved that can bring back trust and confidence in the organization. 

Conclusion

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 Al-Tuwaijri 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 the last candidate, The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP (United Kingdom).

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.

Conclusion

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.

WTO Director-General candidates — Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the United Kingdom’s Dr. Liam Fox generate potential controversy

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is Nigeria’s candidate to become the next Director-General. When she was put forward by the Nigerian government her biographical sketch submitted did not contain information on her having also become a citizen of the United States in 2019. Her biography as available from the WTO webpage is embedded below.

bio_nga_e

In the highly politicized atmosphere that characterizes the current dysfunction at the WTO, omitting her U.S. citizenship may become a liability to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s chances of becoming the next Director-General. Chinese and other news reports raise that very issue. See, e.g., South China Morning Post, September 4, 2020, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s US passport will not help her chances in WTO leadership race, Chinese trade experts say, https://www.scmp.com/economy/global-economy/article/3100280/ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-us-passport-will-not-help-her-chances; Naija247News, September 2, 2020 (posting a Bloomberg News piece), WTO Hopeful Economist Okonjo-Iweala Balances Nigeria, U.S. Citizenships, https://naija247news.com/2020/09/02/wto-hopeful-economist-okonjo-iweala-balances-nigeria-u-s-citizenships/#.X1OeZ5PsZ9A.

The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP (United Kingdom)

In an article earlier this week, Inside U.S. Trade reported that Dr. Fox had indicated that the next Director-General should prioritize the U.S. Congress over the U.S. Administration (President and USTR) to seek a resolution of the WTO’s Appellate Body impasse, seeking Congress to mandate a resolution as part of its consideration of renewal of Trade Promotion Authority. See Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, September 2, 2020, Fox: Congress should leverage TPSA renewal to resolve WTO appellate impasse, https://insidetrade.com/trade/fox-congress-should-leverage-tpa-renewal-resolve-wto-appellate-impasse.

Congress may well have an interest in the topic as part of trade promotion authority. However, for a candidate seeking to be selected as the next Director-General of the World Trade Organization to suggest the path to progress is by circumventing the U.S. Administration seems likely to raise concerns about his objectivity. Circumventing the U.S. Administration essentially indicates Dr. Fox’s belief that the problem at the WTO on the issue is U.S. intransigence. While that may be the European Union view, articulating such a position is unlikely to win friends at USTR. While Dr. Fox apparently believes he has the U.S. support, his statement on the approach he would take as Director-General may result in the U.S. supporting others. The Inside U.S. Trade piece quotes Dr. Fox as saying that when he is being frank, it usually gets him in trouble. Time will tell whether his recent comments repeat that self appraisal.