Amb. David Walker

The WTO selection process for the next Director-General — possible steps that can be taken in the coming weeks

According to the Procedures adopted by the General Council at the end of 2002 for appointing Directors-General, the current selection process of a new Director-General should have concluded with a General Council meeting that was called for November 9, 2020 but then postponed. See PROCEDURES FOR THE APPOINTMENT OF DIRECTORS-GENERAL, Adopted by the General Council on 10 December 2002, WT/L/509 (20 January 2003), paragraphs 8, 15-19; November 6, 2020, Postponement of WTO General Council meeting to consider recommendation of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as next Director-General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/06/postponement-of-wto-general-council-meeting-to-consider-recommendation-of-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-as-next-director-general/.

In prior posts, I have reported on the developments in the third and final round of consultations that the troika (Chairs of the General Council, Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body) had with Members between October 19-27 and the informal meetings with Heads of Delegation on October 28. See October 29, 2020, WTO press release from informal Heads of Delegation meeting on October 28 and Amb. Walker’s statement to the WTO membership on the outcome of the third round of consultations in the Director-General selection process, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/29/wto-press-release-from-informal-heads-of-delegation-meeting-on-october-28-and-amb-walkers-statement-to-the-wto-membership-on-the-outcome-of-the-third-round-of-consultations-in-the-director-general/; October 29, 2020, October 29th video discussion on WTO Director-General selection process following the announcement of results of third round of consultations and U.S. announcement of not backing the candidate with the greatest support, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/29/october-29th-video-discussion-on-wto-director-general-selection-process-following-the-announcement-of-third-round-of-consultations-and-u-s-aanouncement-of-not-backing-the-candidate-with-the-greatest/; October 29, 2020, U.S. support for Minister Yoo for WTO Director-General premised on need for person with trade expertise, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/29/u-s-support-for-minister-yoo-for-wto-director-general-premised-on-need-for-person-with-trade-expertise/; October 28, 2020, WTO Director-General selection process doesn’t generate immediate consensus, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/28/wto-director-general-selection-process-doesnt-generate-immediate-consensus/.

There were two strong candidates being considered by Members in the third round of consultations — H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of Korea (Trade Minister) and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria (Chair of GAVI, former Finance Minister of Nigeria, and senior official at the World Bank). As reported by the Chairman of the General Council, Amb. David Walker of New Zealand, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was the candidate found based on the preferences of Members to be most likely to attract consensus of the Members and whose name would be put forward to the General Council in a special meeting as recommended by the troika consistent with the procedures (para. 19).

Because the Republic of Korea did not withdraw the Korean candidate and because the U.S. indicated it could not support a consensus for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, the Chair of the General Council was faced with additional consultations ahead of the planned special General Council meeting that was scheduled for November 9. On November 6, the meeting was postponed for an indefinite period reflecting reimposed restrictions by the Swiss government in light of a second wave of COVID-19 cases in Switzerland, thus permitting the Chair more time to consult and seek a resolution.

We are now 13 days after the postponement was announced. Absent a resolution through consultations, the option exists to move to a vote on who should be the next Director-General. WT/L/509, para. 20. While a possibility, to date at least, there has been no move to shift from a consensus approach to a vote, although that may happen in the coming weeks or months.

Steps that could be taken to help resolve the current situation

  1. Withdrawal of H.E. Yoo Myung-hee as a candidate

Since the procedures were adopted at the end of 2002, all candidates who have been put forward have done so understanding that the procedures envision any candidate who is not moved to the next round or who is not found to be the candidate most likely to attract consensus in the final round will withdraw. WT/L/509, para 18 (“It is understood that the candidate or candidates least likely to attract consensus shall withdraw.”). The withdrawal of candidates not receiving the requisite support was followed by all candidates who didn’t advance in 2005 and in 2013 and in the first two rounds of the 2020 consultation process. So the failure of Korea to withdraw its candidate was surprising and inconsistent with the agreed procedures.

Korea is a strong supporter of the WTO as was recognized by Amb. Walker is his prepared comments at the meeting on October 28 (JOB/GC/247).

” 4 TRIBUTE TO CANDIDATES AND TO MEMBERS

“4.1. Before I conclude, I would like to acknowledge H.E. Yoo Myung-hee for her participation in this selection process.

“4.2. As I said at the start, Members consider her a highly qualified individual. H.E. Yoo Myung-hee has vast experience, which she has acquired in a number of leading positions, and her outstanding
qualifications are highly valued and respected by all Members. In her distinguished career, H.E. Yoo Myung-hee has always been a tireless promoter of the multilateral trading system, and I am certain that the WTO can continue to count on that commitment.

“4.3. We would also like to acknowledge the Government of the Republic of Korea and its Geneva Representative Ambassador PAIK Ji-ah for their commitment to this institution and to the multilateral trading system.”

The government of Korea has indicated that it has not decided a course of action and press accounts suggest that Minister Yoo is still in the fight for the Director-General position. Hopefully, Korea will take the correct action even if belatedly and withdraw its candidate. There is no doubt that Minister Yoo is a qualified individual. But that has been true of many candidates who did not ultimately succeed. The procedures adopted by the General Council obviously don’t work if candidates who do not receive the broadest and largest support don’t withdraw. Korea’s and Minister Yoo’s actions in having Minister Yoo stay in the competition are hurting the organization that both have actively supported. In an organization where Members already have a low level of trust, having important Members disregard procedures all have agreed to simply compounds the challenge of restoring trust and permitting the WTO to get on with the critical work before it.

2. Carry on in the existing configuration until the Biden Administration is in place in late January

While it is unlikely that the incoming Biden Administration will have its full team in place for a number of months after President-elect Biden is sworn in on January 20, my belief is that there will be a reasonably strong likelihood that the new Administration will not prevent a consensus for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be appointed the next Director-General of the WTO. Thus, holding the special General Council meeting sometime in February would likely permit the recommendation identified by Amb. Walker and his two facilitators at the October 28 informal meeting of Heads of Delegation to proceed unopposed. While a February date drastically reduces the time for an incoming Director-General to help Members prepare for the Ministerial to be held in Kazakhstan midyear 2021, many of the priority short term objectives identified by Dr. Okonjo-Iweala (such as completing the fisheries subsidies negotiations and getting the plurilateral on e-commerce to an advanced state) are being worked by existing groups within the WTO and so hopefully will be positioned for early harvest.

Conclusion

The WTO has many needs for reform going forward. There are issues where drawing a line in the sand may be warranted by Members. I believe that the U.S. has correctly drawn a line in the sand on dispute settlement, an issue of concern to Administrations and Congress for more than 20 years. Hopefully reform of the dispute settlement system can happen in 2021 to restore the balance of rights and obligations that sovereign states negotiated during the Uruguay Round and that will limit the role of panels and the Appellate Body to that which was originally envisioned.

While all decisions by Members are obviously for them to make regardless of outside views, as an outside observer I don’t see the justification for drawing a line in the sand in the selection process for a new Director-General. Both candidates in the final round of consultations were highly qualified and respected. The organization needs a new Director-General. The organization will be well served by either candidate. But only one was found through the 2002 procedures to be the candidate most likely to attract a consensus. With a change in U.S. Administrations a few months away, hopefully the 2002 procedures can be respected again without the need to resort to voting and with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala becoming the next Director-General of the WTO.

Postponement of WTO General-Council meeting to consider recommendation of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as next Director-General

On November 6, the Chair of the General Council, Amb. David Walker of New Zealand announced that the special General Council meeting scheduled for Monday November 9 was being postponed with a future date to be determined. The communication to the WTO membership is embedded below.

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Switzerland has reimposed various restrictions in an effort to deal with a second wave of new cases which topped 10,000 in a single day in early November. See CoVID-19 – the situation in Switzerland, https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/covid-19_coronavirus–the-situation-in-switzerland/45592192. Such restrictions can affect the ability to have in person meetings at the WTO and the willingness of Members to make formal decisions absent in person meetings.

It is also the case that there are external events which are not resolved which could be relevant to the selection process of the next Director-General. One such event is the Presidential election in the United States, where a final resolution is not likely for some time (and certainly not before next Monday).

Similarly, press articles indicate that the Republic of Korea has not resolved internally where it will be on Minister Yoo’s candidacy (withdraw or not withdraw) by the time of the special General Council meeting. See Yonhap News Agency, November 5, 2020, No decision made on S. Korean minister’s WTO chief bid: foreign ministry, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201105010900325.

Thus, a postponement provides Amb. Walker and his two facilitators more time to see whether a consensus can be reached on the candidate who received the largest number of preferences in the third round of consultations (Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) and who was identified by the troika as the candidate most likely to attract consensus.

No specific date has been selected for when the postponed special General Council meeting will occur. It is possible that there will be slippage until 2021.

WTO Press Release from Informal Heads of Delegation Meeting on October 28 and Amb. Walker’s statement to the WTO Membership on the outcome of the third round of consultations in the Director-General selection process

This afternoon, the WTO released a press release on yesterday’s meeting of the Heads of Delegation reviewing the Director-General selection process and the U.S. opposition to the candidate identified as the most likely to attract consensus. Amb. David Walker, the Chair of the General Council, provided a detailed statement during the meeting reviewing the results of the third round of consultations and also announced the date for the next General Council meeting whose sole issue will be the recommendation that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala be appointed the next Director-General of the WTO. How the process will proceed has obviously been complicated by the position of the United States and the failure of the Korean candidate to withdraw as was expected under the procedures being followed in the selection process.

While two prior posts have dealt with the developments and one has provided a discussion organized by WITA, below are the press release and
Amb. Walker’s statement so that readers of the post have both important documents.

WTO-_-2020-News-items-Members-indicate-strong-preference-for-Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala-as-DG-but-US-objects

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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.