Jesus Seade

WTO Director-General Selection Process — this week candidates meet WTO Members in a General Council meeting

As reviewed in a post last week, this Wednesday-Friday (July 15-17) the eight candidates for the Director-General position have their meetings with WTO Members in a General Council meeting. Each candidate has 90 minutes before the General Council and will meet the press immediately afterwards. See WTO Director-General selection process – next steps, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/11/wto-director-general-selection-process-next-steps/. After the meeting with the General Council this week, candidates and their goverments will have until September 8 to do outreach to WTO members in their efforts to get candidates known and build support for the particular candidate.

Not surprisingly, a lot is being written about the candidates. Candidates who were nominated early have already done press interviews or been interviewed on webinars by different organizations. See, e.g., Nikkei Asian Review, Good listener or strong negotiator? WTO candidates make case for top job, https://asia.nikkei.com/Editor-s-Picks/Interview/Good-listener-or-strong-negotiator-WTO-candidates-make-case-for-top-job; Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Egyptian DG candidate: WTO approaching point of no return, June 24, 2020, https://insidetrade.com/trade/egyptian-dg-candidate-wto-approaching-point-no-return; Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Seade: WTO needs ‘respectful’ but ‘assertive’ leader, July 7, 2020, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/seade-wto-needs-%E2%80%98respectful%E2%80%99-%E2%80%98assertive%E2%80%99-leader; Yonhap News Agency, Seoul’s trade minister vows to make WTO more responsive if elected head, July 13, 2020, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20200713001800320. The interest from the media and various trade groups will only grow over the next two months.

Each candidate and his/her nominating government are already doing outreach to other WTO Members seeking to build a base of support for the candidate. Moreover, in the case of Mexico’s Jesus Seade, Mexico has signaled that it will not seek another term for Angel Gurria heading the OECD to bolster the chances of Jesus Seade to head the WTO. Yahoo News, Mexico gives up OECD in campaign to head World Trade Organization, https://news.yahoo.com/mexico-gives-oecd-campaign-head-184513923.html.

And, of course, WTO Members without candidates of their own will be evaluating all candidates against what they perceive to be the best qualities for the next Director-General. Various articles have both described possible characteristics of importance and challenges for candidates from regional rivalries and possible proxy wars. See, e.g., The Wire, In WTO’s Search for its Next Director-General, a Tale of Proxy Wars and Regional Rivalries, July 11, 2020, https://thewire.in/economy/wto-next-director-general; Washington Post, Who Will Lead the WTO and Help It Avoid Collapse?, July 11, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/who-will-lead-the-wto-and-help-it-avoid-collapse/2020/07/10/c2676476-c2d3-11ea-8908-68a2b9eae9e0_story.html.

The European University Institute recently released a working paper reviewing Stakeholder Preferences and Priorities for the Next WTO Director-General based on a survey of academics, government officials, private sector (companies and business associations), staff of international organizations and NGOs, labor unions, think tanks. https://cadmus.eui.eu//handle/1814/67635. Those who responded to the survey ranked preferred characteristics of the next Director-General with experience in managing organizations receiving the highest ranking followed by political experience, economic training and Experienced WTO negotiator. Of far less significance were whether the candidate was from a developing or developed country, from a region that had not yet had a Director-General and the gender of the candidate, although some of the latter characteristics were more important to those responding from certain areas (e.g., Africa). Id at 2-4. Of course, it is the characteristics of importance to WTO Members that matters, not what academics or others would find of value. While Geneva Missions obviously have input in the process and will be handling this week’s General Council meetings, for many Members, the decision will come from the capital.

As an aid to those monitoring the selection process, I have put together a chart (see below) which presents a number of characteristics that may be relevant to WTO Members.

Dr. Jesus Seade has deep WTO and trade experience, has worked at high levels in all three Bretton Woods organizations, and has working relationship with both the U.S. and China. He is an economist by education and training. North America has never had a Director-General at the WTO, although Mexico is a Latin American country, a group within which Brazil (current Director-General’s country) is part.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, while not having a trade background has extensive managerial experience from her time at the World Bank and political experience from her time as Minister of Finance in Nigeria. She has a PhD in Economics. She is one of three candidates from Africa, a continent that has never had a candidate selected as Director-General of the WTO.

Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh has extensive experience with the WTO based on his time within the Secretariat. Egypt is a country in Africa and also part of the Middle East. There has not been a WTO Director-General from either area.

Mr. Tudor Ulianovschi was Moldova’s Ambassador to Switzerland and Lichtenstein and Permanent Representative to the WTO. He has also served as Moldova’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Minister Yoo Myung-hee has been very active in trade and other issues for her government in Korea. Asia has had one Director-General (Thailand), though Korea has not had a candidate serve as the Director-General.

Amb. Amina C. Mohamed has a very extensive trade background for Kenya both in Geneva at Kenya’s Mission to the WTO and back in country as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and chaired the WTO’s 10 Ministerial Conference in Nairobi. She has had other government posts in Kenya and some experience in one of the UN organizations, UNEP. She is the third candidate from Africa.

Mr. Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri is a candidate from Saudi Arabia and is its current Minister of Economy and Planning. Saudi Arabia is in western Asia but also part of the Middle East. There has never been a Director-General selected from the Middle East, with just one from Asia.

Dr. Liam Fox from the United Kingdom has a long and distinguished political career and has served in a number of high political offices in different UK Administrations including Secretary of State for Defence and Secretary of State for International Trade.

A very important opportunity for all eight candidates will be their 90 minutes before the General Council as each candidate will not only be able to provide an overview of their vision on leading the WTO but also be able to respond to a broad cross-section of questions from Members. For WTO Members, the General Council meetings provide the Geneva Missions with their only opportunity to evaluate candidates against each other in a common setting, even if the candidates meet individually with some or many of the Geneva Missions before or afterwards.

Conclusion

We are six days into the two-month Phase 2 of the WTO Director-General selection process. The next three days are a very important period for each candidate to articulate his or her vision for the WTO going forward and provide information to WTO Members’ Geneva Missions that will help the Missions understand why the particular candidate is the best fit for the Organization for the next four years.

The eight candidates make for an interesting group with differing experiences and presumably different visions for moving the WTO forward. The road from eight candidates to the new Director-General continues tomorrow as the General Council hears from each candidate.

The WTO is in crisis on various fronts. With the current Director-General stepping down in 48 days, who emerges as the next Director-General may have an important role in whether the WTO can regain its importance for global trade. Good luck to all of the candidates.