Eloi Laourou

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.