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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.

Who will be the next WTO Director-General? Nominating Period Closes in One Day

With the WTO’s Director-General Roberto Azevedo stepping down at the end of August, the World Trade Organization’s efforts to select a replacement heat up this week as the one month nominating period comes to an end at the close of business on July 8 in Geneva. The roster of candidates is presently five. While one or more additional candidates could be put forward on July 8th, the most likely scenario is that the five candidates put forward to date will be the slate for evaluation.

When the window for nominations closes tomorrow, the Chair of the General Council, Amb. David Walker (NZ), will transmit a consolidated list of nominees to the WTO membership. The CVs of the five candidates became available on the WTO website under news releases as WTO Members nominated individuals. Thus, Mexico’s Jesus Seade was first to be nominated on June 8 and news of the nomination and his bio are available in the press release that day. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgsel_mex_08jun20_e.htm.

Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was the second candidate put forward and was reported on June 9. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgsel_nga_09jun20_e.htm.

Egypt’s Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh was also nominated on June 9th and was so reported that same day as the third candidate. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgsel_egy_09jun20_e.htm.

Moldova submitted the name of Tudor Ulianovschi on June 16th as the fourth candidate for the Director-General slot. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgsel_egy_09jun20_e.htm.

And then the Republic of Korea nominated Yoo Myung-hee on June 24 as the fifth candidate. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgsel_kor_24jun20_e.htm.

The biographies and cover letters from the individual governments are available to WTO Members in a series not available to the public, WT/GC/INF/23-26.

Next steps

The Chairman of the General Council has set meetings with the candidates for the Director-General position next week, starting on July 15 and continuing on July 16 and 17 as needed. In a communication to delegations on July 1, the Chairman of the General Council outline procedures and time limits for the GC meetings that mirror activities undertaken in the 2013 process. Specifically, each candidate will have 15 minutes to make an opening statement and the WTO Members will have up to 75 minutes to ask questions and receive answers (with the last five minutes to be used by the candidate to provide final comments if he/she so wishes). Members are limited to one question of no more than sixty seconds. Members wishing to ask questions need to notify the WTO and then during the meeting names will be pulled from a box so all delegations have a chance to ask questions. In 2013, generally about 20-25 Members asked questions of any candidate.

In a communication on July 3, the Chair reviewed the timing reviewed above and noted that delegations would be limited to one person each at the meetings for social distancing purposes, though delegations could participate virtually for additional members or for the delegation as a whole if so desired.

If there are just five candidates, then the General Council meetings will likely be limited to July 15 and 16. Nothing will obviously be decided until the nomination window closes. But if there are only five candidates a likely schedule would be to have two candidates interviewed the afternoon of July 15 and three candidates considered on July 16 (one morning, two afternoon).

The timing of the GC meetings with candidates is much quicker than what happened in 2013 when the meetings were 29-31 days after the nomination period closed. This year, the GC meetings will be just 7-9 days after the nomination period closes.

What isn’t known about next steps is how much time candidates will be given to interface with WTO Members not just in Geneva but also in capitals. The procedures adopted back in 2002 for finding a new Director-General envisioned three months after the closing of the nomination process for candidates to engage in outreach to WTO Members. That was to be followed by a two month period for the Chair of the General Council and his/her facilitators to meet with Members to work towards finding a candidate that can achieve consensus support. Stated differently, the procedures adopted in 2002 envisioned the period from the close of nominations to the selection of a new Director-General to be five months or roughly 150 days.

Since the WTO will lose its existing Director-General 54 days after the close of the nominating period, the WTO will either need to shorten both the period for outreach and the period for reaching consensus considerably (by close to 100 days) or will have to also gear up for selecting an Acting Director-General from among the four Deputy Directors-General. It is understood that the Chair of the General Council desires to expedite the remaining process, but it is unclear where the Members will be on a serious reduction in time lines. Factors that are out there will be travel limitations and communication challenges for WTO delegations during the COVID-19 pandemic and the normal August break in activity at the WTO (more specifically, whether Members will agree to work through August on the Director-General issue). Hopefully, there will be clarification on the process agreed to and whether Members need to address selecting an acting Director-General in the next several weeks.

Boxes that different candidates fill

The search for a new Director-General is presumably a search for the most qualified person to take on the task at the given point in time. But there are many qualifications/characteristics that get talked about as potentially relevant or that Members may focus on in deciding which candidate is preferred.

There is in the procedures the characteristic of geographical diversity where candidates are equally qualified. Two candidates are from Africa which has not had a Director-General of the WTO (or of the GATT before it). There has not been a Director-General from North America (though some may view the Mexican candidate from the characteristic of Mexico being a Latin country following the current DG from Brazil). Europe has had many DGs in the WTO and GATT (including Pascal Lamy from France before the current DG); while Moldova has never presented a candidate for DG before, being European could be viewed as a negative by those focused on geographical diversity. There has been one Asian DG, though no one from Korea.

All DGs to date have been men. Two candidates (Nigeria and Korea) are women. The desire to have a woman Director-General at this time could be a consideration for some Members in the DG selection process.

All candidates except the Nigerian candidate have extensive trade backgrounds. While there have been DGs where the DG had no significant trade background, the lack of trade background could be viewed by some Members as a negative for the Nigerian candidate if depth of knowledge of the WTO is considered important at this juncture with the various crises engulfing the WTO.

All candidates except the Egyptian candidate have held high political positions (e.g., ambassador, minister, etc.) in their governments (whether trade or non-trade). For those Members viewing political experience as relevant, this could be a negative for the Egyptian candidate.

Two candidates (Mexico and Nigeria) have extensive experience with other multilateral organizations as well as experience with their home governments. For those who view trade as importantly being interrelated with finances and investment, such experiences could be viewed as a plus for these candidates.

The characteristic of whether a country is a developed or developing country, which has been viewed as relevant by some Members in the past, would seem to be irrelevant if the number of candidates remains at five as all of the candidates are from developing countries based on WTO self-selection (although both Mexico and Korea are OECD members and Moldova is an Eastern European country that has been negotiating with the EU).

Conclusion

Each of the five candidates (and more if additional candidates are put forward tomorrow) will have the chance to present their thoughts on leading the WTO next week to the General Council and to answer questions posed by Members. The WTO Members have important decisions to make on whether to truncate the time for outreach by candidates and the time for consultations with the Chair of the General Council and his facilitators on the selection of a new Director-General. Depending on the timeline agreed to, there may also be the need for WTO Members to select an acting Director-General from the four Deputy Directors-General. Members will likely need to include some engagement during August even if wishing a longer period for selecting the new DG to engage in the selection of an acting DG. Look for a busy summer and possibly rest of 2020 before a new Director-General is in place.

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.

COVID-19 — the global rate of increase of confirmed cases is surging

By the close of business on June 22, there will be more than 9 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 with the rate of growth exploding more than six months after the first cases were reported in China, with deaths approaching a half million. For the two weeks ending June 21, the number of new cases approached 2 million (1,932,024), up 24.0% from the two weeks ending June 7 (1,557,983) which in turn were up 21.5% from the two weeks ending May 24 (1,281,916). Thus, the last six weeks have seen the rate of new cases grow by 50.7%. Indeed, the last six weeks account for 54.25% of total cases since the end of 2019 (roughly 25 weeks).

As the worst of the pandemic has passed (at least the first wave) for most of the developed world (other than the United States and countries in the Middle East), the sharp growth in cases is mostly due to the spread of the virus in the developing world where healthcare infrastructure and ability to handle the challenges of the pandemic are likely less than for the developed world.

Central and South America, parts of Asia and the Middle East are the current hot spots of infections with growth in a number of African countries as well. The United States which peaked during the two week period ending April 26, has by the far the largest number of total cases (more than 2.2 million) and is seeing the number of cases rise again in the most recent two weeks.

Afghanistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kuwait, Mexico, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the United Arab Republic all have significant numbers of cases and all but Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE are still growing rapidly in terms of new cases where peaks have not been reached. Thus, the likelihood of even greater number of new cases is a near certainty for the coming weeks.

Some recent developments

Most of western Europe has been engaged in reopening in recent weeks as the rates of infection are dramatically lower than in the March-April period. Indeed, travel within the EU and some neighboring countries is opening up in time for the July-August vacation season. Time will tell if the steps being taken to test, trace and quarantine any cases found going forward will minimize any upward movement in cases.

China and parts of Asia with low rates of infections where economic interruption has been less (e.g., Taiwan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and Japan), are seeing low numbers of new cases. China has taken strong measures to address a new outbreak in Beijing (numbers are a few hundred cases).

Australia and New Zealand have few if any new cases and the numbers for Canada are also way down with reopening occurring as would be expected.

The U.S. and Canada and the U.S. and Mexico are maintaining travel restrictions between themselves (though excluding movement of goods and services).

In the United States, the story on the control of the pandemic is very mixed as individual states have been engaged in reopening at different rates in part reflecting different infection rates and growth rates. However, reopening in some states is occurring despite conditions in the state not being consistent with the Administration’s guidelines from the Center for Disease Control ad Prevention (“CDC”) on when reopening should occur. Thus, there are states seeing large increases in recent days and weeks while many other states are seeing significant declines or at least stable rates of infection. It is unclear how the infection rate in the U.S. will progress in the coming weeks and months.

Trade Considerations

As my post from last week on the Ottawa Group communication reviewed, there are lots of proposals that have been teed up by WTO Members to keep trade flowing during the pandemic and to potentially reduce the likelihood of such trade disruptions as are being experienced at present in future pandemics.

But large numbers of export restraints remain in place, transparency is better than it was in the first quarter but still not what is needed. However, import liberalization/expedition is occurring in many countries to facilitate obtaining medical goods needed at the lowest price.

The toll flowing from the pandemic and the closing of economies to control the pandemic is enormous despite efforts of governments to provide funding to reduce the damage. This has led the WTO to project 2020 trade flows to decline between 13 and 32% from 2019 levels. As data are available for the March-June period, the severity of the decline for various markets is being fleshed out and resulting in lower global GDP growth projections.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic hit many developed countries hard before spreading to most of the developing world, developing countries have seen economic effects from the pandemic preceding the health effects in their countries. Reduced export opportunities, declining commodity prices (many developing countries are dependent on one or a few commodities for foreign exchange), reduced foreign investment (and some capital flight), higher import prices for critical goods due to scarcity (medical goods) and logistics complications flowing from countries efforts to address the spread of the pandemic are a few examples of the economic harm occurring to many developing countries.

The needs of developing countries for debt forgiveness/postponement appears much larger than projected although multilateral organizations, regional development banks and the G20 have all been working to provide at least some significant assistance to many individual countries. Trade financing will continue to be a major challenge for many developing countries during the pandemic. Harm to small businesses is staggering and will set many countries back years if not decades in their development efforts when the pandemic is past.

As can be seen in developed countries, sectors like travel and tourism (including airlines, hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues) are extraordinarily hard hit and may not recover for the foreseeable future. The need for social distancing makes many business models (e.g., most restaurants, movie theaters, bars, etc.) unworkable and will result in the loss of large portions of small businesses in those sectors in the coming months. For many developing countries, travel and tourism are a major source of employment and income. Losses in employment will likely be in the tens of millions of jobs, many of which may not return for years if at all.

Role of WTO during Pandemic

The WTO views itself as performing the useful functions of (1) gathering through notifications information from Members on their actions responding to the pandemic and getting that information out to Members and the public, (2) providing forecasts of the trade flows during the pandemic, and (3) providing a forum for Members to bring forward proposals on what action the WTO as a whole should consider. Obviously the success of all three functions depends on the openness and engagement of the Members.

WTO agreements don’t really have comprehensive rules for addressing pandemics or for the policy space governments are likely to need to respond to the economic tsunami that may unfold (and will unfold with different intensities for different Members). Some recent proposals would try to address some of the potential needs for the trading system to better respond to pandemics. However, most proposals seem to suggest narrowing the policy space. Last week’s Committee on Agriculture was reported to have had many Members challenging other Members actions in the agriculture space responding to the extraordinary challenges flowing from the pandemic. While Committee activity is designed to permit Members the opportunity to better understand the policies of trading partners, a process in Committee which focuses simply on conformance to existing rules without consideration of what, if any, flexibilities are needed in extraordinary circumstances seems certain to result in less relevance of the WTO going forward.

Most countries have recognized that the depth of the economic collapse being cased by the global efforts to respond to COVID-19 will require Members to take extraordinary steps to keep economies from collapsing. Looking at the huge stimulus programs put in place and efforts to prevent entire sectors of economies from collapsing, efforts to date by major developed countries are some $10 trillion. Concerns expressed by the EU and others have generally not been the need for such programs, but rather have been on ensuring any departures from WTO norms are minimized in time and permit a return to the functioning of market economies as quickly as possible.

Members have not to date proposed, but should agree, that the WTO undertake an evaluation of programs pursued by Members and how existing rules do or do not address the needs of Members in these extraordinary times.

WTO Search for a New Director-General – Moldova’s Tudor Ulianovschi is the Fourth Candidate Put Forward

The Republic of Moldova has forwarded to the World Trade Organization the name of Tudor Ulianovschi as a candidate for the Director-General post. Mr. Ulianovschi is a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, a former Moldovan Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein and a former Permanent Representative to the WTO.

Moldova, a land-locked country in Eastern Europe between Romania and Ukraine, became a Member of the WTO on July 26, 2001. The bulk of its trade is with the Russian Federation, other parts of the former Soviet Union and the European Union. Moldova has been working to become part of the European Union and has an Association Agreement with the EU that was fully implemented on July 1, 2016.

Mr. Ulianovschi joins Jesus Seade (Mexico), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria) and Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt) who previously were nominated by their governments. WTO Members have until July 8 to put forward nominations.

Moldova is a lower middle-income country as classified by the World Bank with a small population (2.7 million) and small total GNI ($11.44 billion). It is unclear whether the addition of Mr. Ulianovschi will affect whether one or more candidates from existing EU countries or from the United Kingdom are put forward or whether Mr. Ulianovschi will be the sole European candidate. It is assumed one or more EU-country candidates will in fact be forwarded in the next several weeks.

Similarly, there is speculation that candidates from Asia (Japan, Republic of Korea) and/or Oceania (Australia, New Zealand) may be put forward. So the total number of candidates is likely to continue to grow in the coming days making the completion of a selection process before the end of August less and less likely.

Mr. Ulianovschi’s biography as forwarded to the WTO is embedded below.

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In other news about the first three candidates, a subscription service, Inside U.S. Trade has published articles based on interviews with Jesus Seade and with Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh. Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, June 10, 2020, “Seade says he can be an effective, creative facilitator as director-general”; June 15, 2020, “Egypt’s Mamdouh: WTO needs to find its ‘common purpose’ again”. Foreign Affairs on April 30, 2020 published an article by Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, “Finding a Vaccine Is Only the First Step, No One Will Be Safe Until the Whole World Is Safe,” https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/world/2020-04-30/finding-vaccine-only-first-step.

WTO Director-General Selection Process — 3rd Nomination, Egypt nominates Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh

On June 9, 2020, the WTO received two nominations for consideration in the Director-General selection process. My earlier post reviewed Nigeria’s nominee, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The second nomination received on June 9th was from Egypt for Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh. His bio is embedded below.

bio_egy_e

Mr. Mamdouh’s bio shows a long history of involvement with the WTO (Director, Trade in Services and Investment Division and other positions) and work in the Egyptian government on trade issues before GATT/WTO Secretariat involvement. So his strengths would include knowledge of the WTO and trade policy and his involvement relatively recently with Missions in Geneva. Being from an African country, he could have an advantage if the Members decide to select a DG from a region that has not had a DG in the past. However, like the other two candidates to date, Mr. Mamdouh is from a developing country. If Members decide to rotate between developed and developing, candidates from developing countries would be disadvantaged as DG Azevedo is from Brazil, a developing country. Like Jesus Seade, if the Members decide to select a female candidate, Mr. Mamdouh would be disadvantaged.

It is unclear if more candidates from Africa will come forward during the nomination process and whether nominees from African countries would withdraw if the African Union decides to support a single candidate. Multiple candidates from the same region can dilute support for any one candidate, making it less likely that any candidate from the region will become the Director-General (although prior experience shows multiple candidates from Latin America with Roberto Azevedo from Brazil becoming the Director-General).

So two days into the process, the WTO is at three nominees, two from Africa, and counting.

Selecting a new WTO Director-General — “the game is afoot”; Mexico’s Jesus Seade Kuri is the first nominee

June 8, 2020 is the start of the one month process for WTO Members to put forward a nomination of a national to be considered for the position of the next Director-General. All nominations must be submitted to the Chair of the General Council by the close of business (Geneva time) on July 8. Using a term first expressed by Shakespeare in King Henry IV Part I but probably better known as uttered by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, “the game is afoot”.

There is little doubt that the selection of the next Director-General of the WTO will be important for an organization struggling from major divisions within its membership on direction, need for reform, and ensuring continued relevance while looking for collective action during the COVID-19 pandemic to facilitate trade and minimize the damage to Member and global economies.

In prior posts, I reviewed the general procedures that the WTO will follow in conducting the selection process and thoughts on how to expedite the selection process if WTO Members want to find a replacement before the current Director-General departs at the end of August. See World Trade Organization – Search for a new Director-General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/15/world-trade-organization-search-for-a-new-director-general/; WTO selection of a new Director-General – one individual from a developed country previously reviewed could shorten the process, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/19/wto-selection-of-a-new-director-general-one-individual-from-a-developed-country-previously-reviewed-could-shorten-the-process/.

Potential nominees

The WTO Secretariat will be posting the names of nominees and their CVs as they are received. As of 5:15 p.m. Geneva time on June 8th, the WTO had listed the first nomination to be received, Jesus Seade Kuri nominated by Mexico. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgsel_mex_08jun20_e.htm.

Jesus Seade is a former Ambassador to the GATT, a former Deputy Director-General at the WTO and recently involved in concluding the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement as Deputy Secretary for North America. Press from earlier today noted his nomination.https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-08/mexico-to-nominate-seade-as-its-wto-candidate-el-universal; https://business.financialpost.com/pmn/business-pmn/mexico-to-nominate-seade-as-its-wto-candidate-el-universal. The WTO news contains his CV which is embedded below.

bio_mex_e

Information on other potential nominees is from press or other sources and doesn’t reflect information on actual nominations received by the WTO by the afternoon of June 8.

Press accounts over the weekend indicate that Nigeria has changed their desired candidate from Yonov Frederick Agah (currently one of the WTO’s Deputy Director-Generals) to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister and former World Bank official. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-05/nigeria-nominates-okonjo-iweala-as-wto-director-general.

At least two other African officials are being considered by the African Union, a candidate from Egypt, Hamid Mamdouh, and a candidate from Benin, Eloi Laourou. Mr. Mamdouh is a former WTO Secretariat Director of the Trade in Services and Investment Division and now working for a law firm. https://www.kslaw.com/people/abdelhamid-mamdouh. He also has a webpage being developed for any run for Director-General with a media kit. https://hamid-mamdouh.com/. H.E. Mr. Eloi Laourou is the current Benin Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the WTO (and to UN entities in Geneva).

It appears that the African Union will be holding a meeting by video- conference this week in an effort to see if there is agreement on one candidate for the African Union countries.

European countries are also considering potential candidates including possibly European Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan (Ireland) and Spain’s Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez (she previously served as Chef de Cabinet for Director-General Pascal Lamy). See, e.g., https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/phil-hogan-exploring-idea-of-wto-director-general-role-1.4266073; https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-23/spain-foreign-minister-gonzalez-favorite-to-lead-wto-wiwo-says.

And there will undoubtedly be more Members considering whether to nominate an individual to be considered in the selection process.

The process is intended to focus first on qualifications, and then if there are equally qualified individuals, “Members … 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”. WT/L/509 para. 13. For example, no individual from Africa has previously served as the Director-General (“DG”) of the WTO.

Other factors besides geographical location of the nominee could be whether the nominee is from a developed or developing country and whether the candidate is male or female.

Press has indicated that the EU is seeking a developed country DG in light of the fact that the last DG is from a developing country (Brazil). Indeed, the last four DGs have rotated between developed and developing country nominees. Other developed countries (besides EU members) would include the United Kingdom, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Canada, United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and possibly a few others. The United States has never put up a candidate and is unlikely to do so this time either, but has apparently communicated with Australia a desire to broaden the group of candidates.

As all WTO DGs up to the present have been male, if there are equally qualified male and female candidates, this may be a factor considered by Members.

Expediting the process?

Press accounts indicate an expressed desire to find a replacement for DG Azevedo by the end of August. This seems a nearly impossible objective in light of travel limitations from efforts to control the pandemic, the likely number of candidates and the normal closure of the WTO to most business during the month of August.

But the agreed procedures do permit expedition of the process if agreed by the Members. WT/L/509 para. 23.

It is understood that the General Council meeting with all candidates may be held the week immediately after the close of the receipt of nominations, i.e., the week of July 13. If correct, this approach would have this step occur three weeks earlier than the comparable timing during the 2012-2013 DG selection process when the General Council meeting happened January 29-31 after the nomination process concluded on December 31.

Whether other steps to expedite the process are possible will depend on the will of the Members, limited by the obligation “to be guided by the best interests of the Organization, respect for the dignity of the candidates and the Members nominating them, and by full transparency and inclusiveness at all stages.” Appointment of the Next Director-General, Communication from the Chairman of the General Council to Members, JOB/GC/230 (20 May 2020).

An obvious area where time could be saved would be the three month time frame that candidates have to get themselves known to Members. With travel limitations, meetings with Members in Geneva and in capitals will presumably have to happen virtually. It is possible that governments could agree to a one month period for such outreach by candidates but would require availability of Missions and of officials in capitals with an interest to meet the candidates. If handled during the first month of the post-nomination process, this would suggest conclusion by August 8 (with possible frontloading of meetings for Members who will not extend general operations into August).

If handled on such an expedited basis, the Chairman of the General Council and his two facilitators could do “confessionals” during August to reduce the field of candidates to the one deemed most likely to achieve consensus by the end of the month with a General Council meeting set for Friday, August 28 to permit confirmation of the candidate (if consensus is achieved). Such an timeline would permit a new DG to be confirmed one business day before the departure of DG Azevedo.

To achieve such an outcome, either WTO Members would need to remain in Geneva during August or permanent representatives would need to be reachable and able to provide input during the month and all would need to be amenable to participating in the GC meeting (possibly remotely for some) at the end of August.

If such expedition is not possible, then Para. 23 of the procedures (WT/L/509) calls for the selection by consensus of an acting Director-General from among the four current Deputy Directors-General.

If the full six months to a decision are needed, this would suggest the General Counsel meeting in early December to meet the December 8 timeline. Nothing in the procedures requires a new Director-General to wait three months after confirmation before taking up the position when there is a vacancy/use of an Acting Director-General.

Of course, the objective for the selection process is consensus. While voting is an option, if there were failure to achieve a consensus through the procedures agreed to in 2002, Members could continue to meet with the Chairman of the General Counsel and his facilitators to attempt to achieve consenus. They could also take the extraordinary step of voting although such an approach on a new Director-General would likely have significant negative effects from the imposition of a DG opposed by some significant part of the membership.

Conclusion

As the game is now afoot for the selection of a new Director-General, one can expect a lot of energy of trade officials to be diverted in coming weeks to examining the candidates and choosing preferred candidates. It is clear that there will be a significant number of candidates put forward in the coming weeks which will complicate the ability to expedite the selection process. WTO Members could significantly expedite the process if willing to telescope meetings with candidates virtually and remaining available for decisions and confessionals during August.

We should know in a few weeks whether Members have agreed to a process to find a new DG before DG Azevedo departs or whether there will be some period of time where an acting DG is needed.

COVID-19 – continued global growth of cases; shift continues to Latin America, parts of Asia and the Middle East

Four months after COVID-19 peaked in China, where the virus started, the world continues to stagger under an expanding case load of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Indeed, in the last two weeks new cases around the world have increased by 1.567 million to reach a current global total since the end of December of 6.835 million as of June 7. These number compare to less than 55,000 global cases (nearly all in China) in early February. During the last two weeks, new confirmed cases increased 22.32% from the prior two weeks and continue a chain of unbroken increases since the beginning of March.

As much of the developed world has seen a peak in the number of cases, the continued growth in new cases reflects shifting centers or hot spots generally to developing countries. In looking at 25 countries that have accounted for more than 80% of all cases through June 7, ten of these countries have not yet reached a peak — Brazil, Chile, Egypt, India, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa — while the other fifteen have peaked and seen declines from peak of between 10% and 99%. These fifteen countries are Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States. Still these 25 countries saw a combined increase in total new cases of 18.7% in the last fourteen days. All other countries saw a much larger increase in new cases, 39.61% from 220,812 cases the previous 14 days to 308,293. Some countries of note in this “all other” grouping include Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Nepal, Oman, Qatar, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. See https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases. June 7th report embedded below.

COVID-19-situation-update-worldwide-as-of-7-June-2020

The shifting focus of cases to developing and least developed countries raises increased concerns about access to medical goods, including personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other goods. The WTO’s list of measures applied by Members dealing with COVID-19 either to restrict exports of medical goods or food products or to improve market access , shows dozens of countries applying export restraints on various medical goods (masks, gloves, etc.) including countries where new cases are well past peak (indeed where new cases may be 90% below peak). The WTO information is current as of May 29, 2020. There are also a large number of countries reducing tariffs or streamlining importation of medical goods. https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/trade_related_goods_measure_e.htm.

Moreover, health care infrastructure is often weaker in many of these countries facing growing COVID-19 cases, and the structure of their economies may complicate the ability of governments to address the pandemic even if medical goods are available. A recent article reviews the challenges in Latin America. See https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/06/americas/latin-america-coronavirus-intl/index.html.

Some major players like the United States, the European Union and its member states, and China are both investing large amounts in research and development and also securing early access to any vaccines developed through early commitments and other actions. https://www.biospace.com/article/eu-using-2-7-million-emergency-fund-to-buy-promising-covid-19-vaccines/. With the number of R&D projects ongoing around the world and the efforts of companies and governments to get manufacturing geared up early on promising products, the likelihood of earlier availability of large quantities of vaccines should there be breakthroughs has improved.

The question of equitable and affordable availability for all peoples is certainly there for a global pandemic where major players are funding research and have the resources to get early commitments for supplies. But greater manufacturing capacity earlier should improve global availability. So too the efforts of many countries, organizations and businesses to ensure both availability of vaccines and the distribution of such products to those in need is a major factor in ensuring greater access at affordable prices. As the news from the June 4 GAVI conference in London demonstrates, many are uniting to ensure that small children who have been unable to receive various immunizations against other diseases are able to do so yet this year as well as meet the needs of the pandemic for many developing and least developed countries. See https://www.gavi.org/news/media-room/world-leaders-make-historic-commitments-provide-equal-access-vaccines-all.

Conclusion

The pandemic is continuing to worsen on a global basis even as parts of Asia, Western Europe, Oceania, Canada and the United States are post-peak and starting a process of reopening. The tremendous growth in the number of cases is in developing and least developed countries, those least prepared to handle the health and economic fall out.

The trade news is mixed. Many countries are liberalizing imports of medical goods during the pandemic which is obviously a positive. However, dozens of countries have introduced export restrictions in an environment in which global supply has lagged global demand, and countries have scrambled to protect access to what supplies they can. Many of these restrictions should be removed at this point, at least by countries that are well past peak demand situations.

Ramp up in global production of many medical goods has occurred, though it is unclear if demand/supply balance has been achieved or how/if the world will build the necessary national and regional inventories to handle a second wave or future pandemics. Moreover, without knowing how much larger the number of new cases will become before there is a global peak, it is hard to know if expansion of production of medical goods will be adequate to meet demand in the coming months. Efforts by the G-20 in the trade and investment area are a start but limited in terms of likely actual effect.

Factually, there have substantial declines in global trade flowing from the lock down situation in large parts of the world over the last few months. Trade flows should increase in those parts of the world where reopening is occurring but will likely further decrease in countries where the pandemic is picking up its infection rate. The economic toll on many countries who have come through the worst of the pandemic has been unprecedented and will present challenges to their ability to rebound quickly and to their willingness to increase financial assistance to others.

While success in finding vaccines or therapeutics is never guaranteed (indeed no vaccine for HIV has been found despite efforts for 40 years), there has never been the global focus on R&D and the willingness to risk large amounts of capital to be ready to produce large volumes of doses for any products demonstrating effectiveness. While the global community is not unified in its support of the WHO or in cooperating to achieve equitable and affordable access for all, there has been important support for both which should improve achieving a global solution if vaccines are developed that are effective.

Finally, it is hard to imagine significant forward movement at the WTO on its current negotiations or on WTO reform (including of the dispute settlement system) while Members are struggling to address the fallout from the pandemic. And, of course, with the WTO turning its attention to the selection of a new Director-General in light of DG Azevedo’s departure at the end of August, achieving focus on the normal work of the WTO will be that much harder until a new DG has been selected.

Bottom line – a continued difficult 2020 in the second half of the year.

COVID-19 — new hotspots amidst continued growing number of confirmed cases

On May 25th, there is continued global growth in the number of COVID-19 cases despite apparent control of the virus in its origin, China, and in a number of Asian countries that had early case loads. There also has been a sharp contraction in western Europe which had been a major hot spot for March and April and some decline in the United States, the country with the largest number of cases. Despite the positive news from some parts of the world, there have been sharp upticks in South America, in Russia, in various countries in the Middle East and in parts of Asia. While the numbers remain relatively low in Africa, there are also countries in Africa going through significant growth in the number of cases.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control puts out a daily compilation of the global situation and includes epidemiological curves for the world broken by continents (as they have characterized countries and continents). The link to today’s issue is here and shows the bulk of the volume of new confirmed cases continuing to be from the Americas, with increasing volumes of new cases also coming from Asia. The data show reduced volumes of new cases from Europe and growing volumes of new cases (though still quite small) from Africa. https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases.

In South America, Brazil’s case load is skyrocketing, and the country now has the second most cases after the United States. Peru, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, and Bolivia are other countries in South America going through rapid growth rates in the number of new COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks.

In North America, Mexico’s cases are increasing rapidly, and the U.S., while having apparently peaked and started a decline, still shows the largest number of new cases of any country in the last two weeks.

In Europe, Russia, while appearing to have peaked, still has very large numbers of new cases and has the third largest number of cases of any country.

In the Middle East, a number of countries have large increases in the number of new cases, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE.

In Asia, India and Pakistan are seeing large increases in the number of new cases.

In Africa, just two countries have as many as 10,000 confirmed cases — South Africa with 21,343 cases and Egypt with 16,613. Both countries have seen large increases in the last two weeks.

So the bottom line is that five months since data started to be collected on COVID-19 cases, the world is seeing continued growth in the number of new cases reported daily with a significant shift in the number of cases from China, Western Europe and parts of Asia to new hot spots in Russia, South America, the Middle East, certain large countries in Asia and in Africa.

Looking at twenty-two countries who were either early countries with COVID-19 confirmed cases or countries who have seen large increases in the first five months, there are other take-aways. The table in the embedded document below was compiled from the ECDC data base through May 24 (with updates for the U.K. and Spain for 5/24 since the 5-24 publication stopped at 5-23 for those two countries). The table has eleven columns of fourteen day periods from Jan. 6, 2020 through May 24, 2020 and a twelfth column showing data for the six day period Dec. 31, 2019 – January 5. The twenty-two countries shown accounted for 4,289,037 confirmed cases of the 5,273,572 global total cases shown in the May 24th publication (81.33% of all cases). Yet despite the presence of China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, France, Germany, Italy and Spain among the 22 (all of whom show sharp declines in new cases in the last month or so), the number of new cases from the 22 countries collectively continues to increase each two weeks.

COVID-19-geographic-disbtribution-worldwide-2020-05-24

Countries who have dealt with COVID-19 most successfully had relatively short periods of peak numbers of new cases and sharp contractions of new cases within a month of the peak. The United States has had a relatively longer-term plateau of high infection rates and more limited reductions after the peak. Some of the new hot spots are still growing and so haven’t even peaked. If their internal efforts to control the spread of COVID are not more successful than the experience of the United States, the world is likely to continue in a period of upward growth of global cases which will keep extreme pressure on the global supply of medical goods needed by first responders and the public more generally. New hot spots will also necessarily mean a shifting of where health care systems are overwhelmed by rising numbers of cases.

In a prior post, I reviewed the recent G20 Trade and Investment Ministers statement and agreed program to support keeping trade flowing during the COVID-19 pandemic and addressing longer term needs, including increased capacity for medical goods. See G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Meeting – Meaningful Help for COVID-19 Response and WTO Reform? https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/17/g20-trade-and-investment-ministerial-meeting-meaningful-help-for-covid-19-response-and-wto-reform/.

There have been various articles reviewing some of the increased production occurring in China, in the EU and in the United States, among other countries. Such increased production provides the hope that the gap between supply and demand has been reduced or eliminated for some products. Declining number of new cases for many countries also means that their internal needs have decreased, which should permit redirecting supplies to countries in need.

For example, with the expansion of U.S. production of ventilators and the peaking of new cases about a month ago in the U.S., the U.S. has shifted from searching the world for ventilators to indicating it will export ventilators to countries in need (including the recent export of 50 U.S.-made ventilators to the Russian Federation). The level of increased production in the United States, an increase of more than 100,000 units, should significantly reduce any global supply deficiency for ventilators going forward. See https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/05/21/860143691/u-s-sends-ventilators-to-russia-in-5-6-million-coronavirus-aid-package; https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/21/trump-ventilators-africa-aid-199006.

One risk that remains is whether any increased production will be maintained over time or permitted to atrophy once the pandemic’s first phase has run its course.

Another risk goes to whether countries will address whatever barriers or disincentives exist to develop the needed capacity, increase the reliability of supply chains (with the possibility of some reshoring or building in greater redundancies in supply chain capabilities), or develop the inventories of medical supplies needed for addressing a phase 2 or some subsequent pandemic.

Finally, dozens of countries have imposed export restraints on medical goods to address domestic demand needs as the number of cases were increasing in the individual country. While the WTO provides flexibilities for countries to impose such restraints, the flexibilities are intended to be used only for temporary purposes. Many of the restraints imposed have not been removed by countries even if their current situation should permit the reduction or elimination of the restrictions. Hopefully the WTO review process and agreements by G20 and other groups will facilitate a rapid elimination of such restraints when no longer needed or justified.

Conclusion

Most of the developed world has come through the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of controlling the spread and reducing the number of new confirmed cases. Countries who have gotten past their peak infection rates are now starting to reopen their economies to reduce the economic damage that has already been extraordinary for many countries.

Unfortunately, other countries, who have not been the hot spots for COVID-19, see increases in cases that surpass the declines in those who have gotten through the peaks of infections in their countries. Thus, total new cases continue to increase even after five months since data were first collected.

The growing number of confirmed cases make collective efforts to keep markets open and any export restraints imposed temporary in fact, to expand production of medical supplies, to share best practices, to ensure adequate financial resources for the world’s poorest countries and to expedite development of vaccines and therapeutics critical if the extent of the economic and human damage from this pandemic is to be capped and reduced going forward in the second half of 2020.