Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

WTO Director-General Selection Process — Next Steps

With the current WTO Director-General, Robert Azevedo, stepping down at the end of August, the WTO is a little more than one month into the selection process for a new Director-General. The process is envisioned normally to take nine months of which six months deal with nominations, candidate outreach to WTO Members, and consultations by the WTO’s Chair of the General Council (with the assistance of the Chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and the Trade Policy Review Body) with WTO Members to find a candidate for whom consensus is possible and a General Council meeting to confirm the selection of a new Director-General. Because of the approaching departure of the current Director-General, the WTO is examining whether the process of selecting a new Director-General (“DG”) can be accelerated. To the extent the process is not concluded before DG Azevedo departs, the WTO will select an acting Director-General from among the four Deputy Directors-General.

Phase 1, Nominations

Phase 1 of the WTO Director-General selection process came to an end on July 8, one month after the process started on June 8 as the window for WTO Members to nominate candidates from their country/territory came to an end at the close of business on July 8th. Eight WTO Members provided nominations to the WTO. The Member and candidate in the order of nomination at the WTO are reviewed below along with the date that the WTO posted a press release on the nomination (with official bio submitted).

The Chair of the General Council released a consolidated list of candidates whose nominations had been received by the WTO on July 9, embedded below. WT/GC/INF/30.

WTGCINF30

Phase 2, Candidates Making Themselves Known to the WTO Members

After the close of the nomination window, normal procedures provide three months for candidates to “make themselves known to Members”. This phase 2 of the selection process starts with a WTO General Council meeting at which each candidate is given time to make an opening statement and for Members to ask questions and receive answers. The General Council meeting is followed and preceded by candidates and their nominating governments doing outreach to WTO Members in Geneva and in capitals around the world.

A. General Council meeting

In the 2012-2013 selection process, the General Council meeting took three days and occurred 29-31 days after the close of the nomination phase. Each candidate had 15 minutes for an opening statement followed by 75 minutes of questions and answers with the last five minutes of the 75 minutes reserved to the candidate to make a summing up if desired. Members wishing to ask a question notified the WTO in advance for each candidate for which they wished to be considered to ask a question and their names were included in a box from which names were drawn. Questions were limited to one minute maximum, with no follow-up questions allowed. Each candidate was offered the opportunity to meet with the media immediately after the meeting with the General Council.

In the current selection process, the WTO is proceeding in the same manner with the same time allocations and same opportunity to meet press, though the timing of the General Council meeting has been moved up as part of a process to expedite the overall selection process. The General Council will meet 7-9 days after the close of the nominating period, the meetings being over three days, July 15-17.

On Friday, the specific schedule was announced. Candidates are heard in the order in which their nominations were received by the WTO. Below is the schedule of meetings for candidates with the General Council (each meeting is 90 minutes) followed by a press conference, assumed to occur within 15 minutes of the close of the meeting with the General Council. The press conferences will be webcast live on the WTO website and will be archieved, as they were in 2013.

CandidateDate at GCTimePress Conference
Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico)July 1511:15 13:00 (est.)
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)July 1515:0016.45 (est.)
Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mumdouh (Egypt)July 1516:3018:15 (est.)
Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi (Rep. of Moldova)July 1611:0012:45 (est.)
H.E. Yoo Myung-ee (Rep. of Korea) July 1615:0016:45 (est.)
Amb. Amina C. Mohamed (Rep. of Kenya)July 1616:3018:15 (est.)
Mr. Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)July 1710:0011:45 (est.)
Dr. Liam Fox (United Kingdom)July 1711:3013:15 (est.)

B. Length of period of outreach by candidates

The Chair of the WTO’s General Council on the 10th of July announced that Members had agreed to truncate the phase 2 outreach by candidates from three months to two months, ending September 7. See General Council Chair Walker announces timelines for next stages of DG selection process, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgsel_10jul20_e.htm.

Phase 3, Consultations with WTO Members on Candidate Best Placed to Attract Consensus

The final phase of the selection process is one in which the WTO’s Chair of the General Council along with the Chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and the Trade Policy Review Body consult with all WTO Members “to assess preferences and seek to determine which candidate is best placed to attract consensus support.” Id. This phase is to be completed within two months with a General Council meeting to consider and (hopefully) adopt the recommendation of the candidate put forward by the General Council Chair (by November 7 in the current selection process).

In 2013, when there were nine candidates, the consultation process involved three rounds of consultations, with those candidates with the least likelihood of generating consensus being asked to withdraw after each round so a recommendation could be made.

With eight candidates in the current selection process, multiple rounds of consultations will almost certainly be needed. It is unlikely that the process will be completed significantly in advance of the two month deadline.

The procedures adopted in 2002 provide for the option, if needed, to go to voting, though that is a last resort and has not been used to date.

Hopefully, resolution of the selection of the next Director-General will happen by early November. While the procedures for selection envision a three month period after selection before the new Director-General assumes his/her position at the WTO, the three months is premised on there being a Director-General whose term ends in three months. In the current situation where the Director-General departs at the end of August, the new Director-General will presumably take office immediately and General Council adoption of his/her nomination.

Need for an Acting Director-General for the Period September 1 – early November

According to the Procedures for the Appointment of Directors-General adopted by the General Council on 10 December 2002 (WT/L/509, para. 23),

“In the event of a vacancy in the post of Director-General, the General Council shall designate one of the existing Deputy Directors-General to serve as Acting Director-General until the appointment of a new Director-General.”

As this post is being written, there are just 51 days until there is a vacancy in the post of Director-General. Since the timing for completion of the selection process will run several months past the departure of Director-General Azevedo, the General Council has in front of it the additional need to designate one of the existing Deputy Directors-General to serve as the Acting Director-General.

The four existing Deputy Directors-General are Yonov Frederick Agah (Nigeria), Karl Brauner (Germany), Alan Wm. Wolff (United States) and Yi Xiaozhun. Information on the four Deputy Directors-General is contained in various WTO website listings. See The Deputy Directors-General, https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/dg_e/ddg_ra_e.htm; Understanding the WTO The Organization, the Secretariat, https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/whatis_e/tif_e/org4_e.htm#agah. Embedded below is the page on the Deputy Directors-General.

WTO-_-Deputy-Directors-General

While the 2002 procedures for designating an acting Director-General have not been used before now, it is understood that the Chair of the General Council is consulting with Members now on the issue and will likly include the topic in the agenda for the General Council meeting scheduled for July 22-23. Selection of an acting Director-General is presumably done by consensus as well.

While the role of an acting Director-General is understood to be largely administrative (being available to pay bills, manage Secretariat issues, keep the organization functioning while awaiting the completion of the selection process) and even though Deputy Directors-General act independent of their national origin, it is unclear how political considerations will be at play in the designation of an acting Director-General. For example, with three candidates from African countries for the post of Director-General (including one from Nigeria) would the designation of Yonov Frederic Agah (a Nigerian) as acting Director-General be viewed as harmful or helpful to the chances of the one or more of the African candidates since an African would be serving in the acting position? Similarly, with the differences in views of the WTO’s path forward between the U.S., China and Europe, will one ore more of the three other Deputy Directors-General be viewed as unacceptable to one or more of the majors? If there are political complications affecting the designation of an acting Director-General, what spillover effects will such tensions on the acting designation have in achieving a smooth resolution on the selection process of a new Director-General? We will likely find out whether the designation process is smooth or complicated in the next several weeks.

Conclusion

The selection process for the next WTO Director-General is in a very active stage. The Chair of the General Council has worked with the WTO Members to expedite the process to the extent acceptable to Members. Such expedition will result in at least one month cut off of the six month period from the start of nominations to the selection of a new Director-General, with resolution due by November 7 at the latest.

All of the eight candidates will be in Geneva next week for their meetings with the General Council during July 15-17. There is a shortened period for candidates to do outreach to WTO members so the rest of July, all of August and the first week of September will be hectic for the candidates and their governments with some in person meetings and many virtual meetings during this time.

When Phase 3 kicks in in early September, the General Council’s Chair along with the Chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and the Trade Policy Review Body will be involved in the time-consuming task of consultations with Members as they work to find a consensus candidate for the Director-General post. In 2013, those efforts took three rounds of consultations to go from nine candidates to one who was recommended to the General Council and accepted by consensus. It is assumed this year, the challenges will be comparable and will likely take three rounds (8 candidates to 4 to 2 to recommendation may be the path consultations take).

Because the current Director-General, Roberto Azevedo, will be stepping down on August 31, the WTO, for the first time since the General Council adopted procedures for selecting new Directors-General at the end of 2002, will need to designate an acting Director-General from the four existing Deputy Directors-General. While the designation process may prove to be uneventful, in a time of significant dysfunction within the WTO because of dramatically different views of the operation of the WTO and reform needs by many Members, there is at least the chance for the designation process to become complicated and to make more difficult the ability to reach consensus on a new Director-General.

Considering the severe challenges facing the WTO and the complications flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic, selecting a strong Director-General in a process that flows without major incident is an important hoped-for outcome in the remainder of 2020.

Candidates for the Next Director-General of the WTO — four and counting, an update

Two weeks after the WTO opened the nomination process for candidates to fill the Director-General post which becomes vacant on September 1, 2020, four countries have put forward candidates — Mexico, Nigeria, Egypt and Moldova. The period for nominations will come to a close on July 8 (COB Geneva time), so there are still sixteen days for additional candidates to be put forward.

There are many rumors and a few facts on possible candidates not yet announced. Press have indicated that Benin, which had had a candidate identified for consideration by the African Union, has withdrawn H.E. Mr. Eloi Laourou (Benin’s current Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the WTO) from consideration and will be supporting Nigeria’s candidate, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. See The Africa Report, Benin drops its WTO candidate in support of Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala (15 June 2020), https://www.theafricareport.com/29941/benin-drops-its-wto-candidate-in-support-of-nigerias-okonjo-iweala/.

The other African name floated as a possible candidate has been Kenya’s Amina Mohamed, current sport and culture minister and former Kenyan Ambassador to the WTO who was the first woman to chair the WTO’s General Counsel. She was also a candidate for the Director-General position in 2012-2103 when Roberto Azevedo of Brazil was selected. While mentioned early, there has been little in the press indicating Kenya will be nominating her, but there is obviously still time if Kenya so chooses. See Financial Times, Contenders Set Out Stalls to Succeed Azevedo at Helm of WTO, May 17, 2020, https://www.ft.com/content/fc5fda8e-56cb-4866-b477-f4c3af603b5c.

Possible Developed Country Candidate(s)?

It has been rumored that there would be one or more developed country candidates and some WTO Members or their trade ministers, like the EU, have articulated a belief that the next Director-General should be from a developed country, consistent with the recent rotation between developed and developing country having the post of Director-General. Since DG Azevedo is from Brazil, a developing country, developed countries should take the next turn, according to this logic.

An article in the New York Times indicates that the European Trade Commissioner, Phil Hogan (Ireland) has confirmed he is considering a bid. See New York Times, Who’s Bidding to Be Next World Trade Organization Chief?, June 22, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/06/22/business/22reuters-trade-wto-factbox.html.

Spain’s Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya has also been repeatedly identified as a potential candidate. She was chef de cabinet for Director-General Pascal Lamy who served from 2005-2013.

Other developed countries could decide to nominate one or more candidates, though press accounts indicate that Australia is not planning on submitting a candidate (at least not at present) and the U.S. has historically not put forward a candidate from the U.S. See Financial Review, No Australian candidate for WTO boss, Birmingham says, June 22, 2020, https://www.afr.com/world/europe/no-australian-candidate-for-wto-boss-birmingham-says-20200619-p554gf

Rumors have suggested that the Republic of Korea may submit a candidate. Japan has been very active in recent years through their ambassadors to the WTO but is not believed to be likely to put forward a candidate.

New Zealand had a Director-General two decades ago, Michael Moore, and its Trade Minister and former Ambassador to the WTO, Tim Groser, ran in 2012-2013. It is unclear whether New Zealand will put forward a candidate, whether former Minister Groser or someone else.

There is a rumor in Geneva that more nominations are likely and that at least one more may materialize later this week. If such an event materializes, I would suspect someone from an EU country or from Korea will become the fifth candidate.

Outreach by existing candidates and legal wrangling between African countries

The advantage of being an early announced candidate in the current process is that candidates can get their views out through the media ahead of the General Council meeting, and there is more time for their governments to court support from other WTO Members. Particularly when there is interest in expediting the selection process because of the near-term departure of existing Director-General Azevedo, such opportunities for pre-General Council wooing of other Members and media outreach will be more limited for candidates joining closer to the end of the nominating time period. The General Council meeting to meet and hear from the candidates is understood to likely be sometime in the week of July 12. If there is actually an effort to expedite the selection process after July 8, time will be very limited for candidates after the General Council meeting.

It is clear that at least the first three candidates are taking advantage of media to articulate their vision for the WTO and their role if selected as the next DG. Nominating governments are also doing outreach to trading partners seeking to build up support for their candidate.

For example, Jesus Seade Kuri, the Mexican candidate, provided an interview to the South China Morning Post which was published on June 18, 2020, Mexico’s nominee for top WTO job, Jesus Seade, vows to ‘bring US and China back to the table’, https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3089452/mexicos-nominee-top-wto-job-jesus-seade-vows-bring-us-and.

Similarly, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had her views on the WTO DG job published in various publications including the Pulse, ‘I’m a strong negotiator, reformer,’ Okonjo-Iweala makes her case for ‘challenging’ WTO job, June 17, 2020, https://www.pulse.ng/business/okonjo-iweala-former-minister-makes-case-for-wto-job/y123dsb.

Outreach has also been made by Egypt’s Abdel Hamid Mamdouh as he laid out what he considered to be important aspects of his candidacy in an article that appeared in The Africa Report on June 11. See Egypt’s Abdel Hamid Mamdouh bid for the WTO – Five things to know, June 11, 2020, https://www.theafricareport.com/29730/egypts-abdel-hamid-mamdouh-bid-for-the-wto-five-things-to-know/.

All candidates have recognized the challenges with the tensions between the United States and China, the need to be an honest broker, how their background gives them strengths needed to address the role of Director-General amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and need for reform at the WTO.

While Mexico is working on shoring up support for Mr. Seade amongst WTO Members in the Americas (and elsewhere), the two African candidates are working to gain support from their African colleagues (and others). Little has been in the press as yet as to what actions Moldova or its candidate are taking in the early days after Tudor Ulianovschi’s nomination.

Egypt has attempted to have Nigeria’s candidate disqualified on the grounds that Nigeria had another proposed candidate submitted to the African Union but withdrew that candidate and put forward Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala past the deadline for such nominations. The African Union’s counsel concurred but that position has been challenged by Nigeria. In any event, WTO procedures limit who may nominate candidates to WTO Members. Nigeria is a member while the African Union is not. Therefore, whatever is relevant for African Union member consideration, it is not relevant to whether Nigeria or any other AU member can propose a candidate to the WTO by July 8. See The Cable, Okonjo-Iweala still eligible to run for office of DG, says, WTO, June 20, 2020, https://www.thecable.ng/exclusive-okonjo-iweala-still-eligible-to-run-for-office-of-dg-says-wto. This type of public discord will not be helpful to obtaining solidarity around a single African candidate which has been the presumed purpose of the African Union’s process.

Conclusion

With roughly half of the nomination time period having run, it is clear that there will be a significant number of candidates. It is unclear how many developed country candidates will end up running and to what extent members will focus more on geographical area, development status, or gender of the candidates in their considerations.

With the U.S., the EU and China having very different views of what needs to be done to return the WTO to relevance and with the recent USTR statement that any candidate to receive U.S. backing must “understand the need for reform and the problems of free economies in dealing with China” (New York Times, U.S. Wants WTO Head Who Understands Problems Dealing with China: Lighthizer, June 17, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/06/17/world/asia/17reuters-usa-trade-wto.html), the road ahead will be challenging for all candidates with no guarantee that the process will succeed in either an expedited or normal time period.

Hopefully, the Chairman of the General Council (Amb. David Walker) and the WTO Secretariat have the four Deputy Directors-General warming up in case one of them is needed to serve as the Acting Director-General beginning September 1st.

WTO Director-General Selection Process — 2nd Nomination, Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, received on June 9.

As reviewed in yesterday’s post, Nigeria had announced that it would be nominating Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Nigeria’s nomination was received at the WTO today, June 9. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has twice served as Nigeria’s Finance Minister and had a two-decade career at the World Bank. Her resume as submitted to the WTO is embedded below.

bio_nga_e

The African Union is reported to be meeting virtually later this week to consider which African candidate it will support for the WTO Director-General (“DG”) position. There are likely at least two other African candidates being considered as reviewed yesterday. See Selecting a new WTO Director-General – “the game is afoot”; Mexico’s Jesus Seade Kuri is the first nominee, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/06/08/selecting-a-new-wto-director-general-the-game-is-afoot-mexicos-jesus-seade-kuri-is-the-first-nominee/.

Each candidate put forward to date has strengths and possible perceived weaknesses in terms of the DG position, although the qualifications of candidates outlined in the procedures are broad: “In broad terms, candidates should have extensive experience in international relations, encompassing economic, trade and/or political experience; a firm commitment to the work and objectives of the WTO; proven leadership and managerial ability; and demonstrated communications skills.” WT/L/509, para. 9 The procedures, wherein candidates are given time to make themselves known to Members both in Geneva and in capitals and the General Council meeting to give each candidate an opportunity to present their credentials and vision for the WTO provides important opportunities for each candidate to demonstrate his or her qualifications.

Just looking at the biographies provided to the WTO for the first two candidates, I would make the following preliminary comments:

Jesus Seade has a strong trade background and is knowledgeable about the operations of the WTO having served as Mexico’s Ambassador to the GATT and having served as a Deputy Director-General of the GATT and WTO as well as having served as Mexico’s Chief Negotiator for the USMCA in wrapping up negotiations on the recently completed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and Under-Secretary for North America. His background also includes time at both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. If he has weaknesses, it could be that Mexico is viewed as part of Latin America and outgoing DG Azevedo is from Brazil, another Latin American country. For equally qualified candidates, a factor to be considered would be whether a Mexican candidate following a Brazilian DG would reflect “the diversity of the WTO’s membership in successive appointments to the post of Director-General.” WT/L/509, para 13. Mexico also asserts the status of a developing country. Should Members decide to alternate between developed and developing (as it has on the last four DGs, being from a developing country would weigh against him. It is also the case that his last direct involvement with the WTO goes back several decades, so he might have less familiarity with current WTO Missions and Member capitals than other possible candidates may have.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has an impressive resume with senior government positions (Finance Minister) and senior positions at a major international organization, the World Bank. Being from Africa, which has never had a Director-General, could be viewed as an advantage under the geographic diversity factor that can be considered where there are equally qualified candidates. WT/L/509, para. 13. While the sex of a candidate is not a specifically listed factor to be considered, there has not been a female Director-General and so that may be a positive for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala where other candidates are equally qualified but male. As to potential negatives, her background is in finance, not in trade, which could be viewed as a negative. Just as for Mexico, Nigeria is a developing country at the WTO. If the Members decide to rotate between developed and developing, coming from a developing country would be a negative factor. Finally, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would likely be less well known among Geneva Missions and trade officials in capitals which could also be a negative.

Conclusion

With two nominees in the first two days of the month-long period for nominations, it is unknown how many candidates there will be in total by July 8. The procedures adopted in 2002 encourage nominations from a broad cross-section of Members. “In order to ensure that the best possible candidate is selected to head the WTO at any given time, candidatures representing the diversity of Members across all regions shall be invited in the nominations process.” WT/L/509, para. 13. The first two candidates are obviously very talented individuals with very different career paths. WTO Members will be attempting to determine which candidate would be best able to lead the Organization forward in a period of great challenges. Because there may be very different views as to which direction Members want the organization to go in the future, the road ahead for the selection process is not necessarily a smooth one.

If it turns out to be a crowded field, it is less likely that Members will be comfortable with a truncated timeline for considering the candidates which will require selecting an acting Director-General from the four Deputy Directors-General. To use the Chinese saying, “may we live in interesting times.”