Moldova

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.

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.

bio_mda_e

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.