Nigeria

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala announces selection of four Deputy Directors-General

A little over two months after assuming the position of Director-General (“DG”) of the World Trade Organization, DG Okonjo-Iweala announced her four Deputy Directors-General (“DDGs”). Two of the four DDGs are women, marking the first time that there is gender balance among the DDGs. The press release from the WTO is embedded below.

WTO-_-2021-News-items-DG-Okonjo-Iweala-announces-her-four-Deputy-Directors-General

DG Okonjo-Iweala’s selections follow past practice of picking DDGs from the four regions other than the region of the DG (Africa). The U.S. and the EU (France this time) continue to hold a DDG slot (Angela Ellard and Amb. Jean-Marie Paugam respectively). The Asian slot goes to China (Amb. Xiangchen Zhang) for the second time in a row (potentially indicating that three of the five slots will be going to the US, EU and China going forward). The Latin slot goes to Anabel Gonzalez of Costa Rica. Three of the four have extensive experience in Geneva with Amb. Xiangchen Zhang having recently concluded his role as China’s Permanent Representative to the WTO, with Amb. Jean-Marie Paugam having been France’s Permanent Representative to the WTO and with Ms. Anabel Gonzalez having had many roles both within the WTO Secretariat and with the Government of Costa Rica including Minister of Foreign Trade. All four have extensive experience with trade issues as the short bios included in the press release review. Ms. Angela Ellard from the U.S. has decades of experience in the interaction between the legislative and executive branches in the U.S. in the trade arena having served in a senior staff capacity for the House Ways and Means Republicans.

Today’s press release did not identify areas of responsibility for each of the four DDGs. That information will presumably be released in the coming days.

In prior posts I have urged the selection of strong individuals for the four DDG slots, people able to help DG Okonjo-Iweala with the myriad challenges facing the organization. See February 13, 2021, Leadership change at the WTO — with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s arrival next week, what support team and early changes in the role of the Secretariat could help WTO Members move forward?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/13/leadership-change-at-the-wto-with-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-arrival-next-week-what-support-team-and-early-changes-in-the-role-of-the-secretariat-could-help-wto-members-move-forward/; March 31, 2021, When will WTO DG Okonjo-Iweala reveal choices for Deputy Directors-General?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/31/when-will-wto-dg-okonjo-iweala-reveal-choices-for-deputy-directors-general/.  The four individuals who have been selected all appear to be strong individuals with the ability to help the DG in outreach to major Members. They bring a lot of talent and depth of understanding of current challenges to their jobs. Chemistry among the group and with the DG is something that will develop over time and hopefully will have them being a cohesive and highly supportive team for the DG.

With much to accomplish to restore credibility for the WTO and its ability to help move global trade forward in a more sustainable and equitable manner, I join all those wishing the new DDGs success in their new positions.

Special Session of the General Council at WTO appoints Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the seventh Director-General

The Special Session of the WTO General Council yesterday, February 15, 2021, which was called for the sole purpose of appointing the next Director-General, ran especially long, some four hours, as many WTO Members took to the floor (virtually) to congratulate Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her appointment as the next WTO Director-General. The appointment marks the first time the WTO or its predecessor the GATT has been headed by a woman, and the first time it has been headed by an African. At the end of the special meeting of the General Council, the next Director-General held a press conference for about an hour. During the press conference, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was asked how reporters should address her. Her answer was as Dr. Ngozi (Director-General Ngozi after February 28). I use “Dr. Ngozi” in the rest of this post.

While a normal term for the Director-General is four years, the WTO Members could have appointed Dr. Ngozi for the remainder of the four years from September 1, 2020-August 31, 2024 (i.e., the period from when Roberto Azevedo stepped down at the end of August), a four year period from March 1, 2021 – February 28, 2025 (i.e., the four year period from when she starts as Director-General), or could have brought the first period back in line with the four year cycles that would have prevailed if Roberto Azevedo had stayed til August 31, 2021. The WTO membership has set Dr. Ngozi’s first term at the longer option, March 1, 2021 – August 31, 2025.

The special meeting was not open to the public, and minutes from the meeting are not yet available. As the only agenda item was the appointment of the next Director-General, the process presumably consisted of the Chairman of the General Council, Amb. David Walker (New Zealand), with the concurrence of his facilitators in the selection process Amb. Dacio Castillo of Honduras (Chairman of the Dispute Settlement Body) and Amb. Harald Aspelund of Iceland (Chairman of the Trade Policy Review Body), putting forward the recommendation that Dr. Ngozi be appointed as the next Director-General. Without objection, Dr. Ngozi received the consensus support of the Members. Following that Dr. Ngozi provided a statement which both thanks the “troika” for their efforts during the selection process and reviewed her vision of the priorities for the WTO. Her full statement is embedded below (JOB/GC/250).

JobsGC250

Some excerpts lay out the major priorities and shows the daunting challenges facing WTO Members and the new Director-General:

“1.9 * * * For the global economy to return to sustained growth, the global community will need to get a tight grip on the pandemic by intensifying cooperation to make equitable and affordable access to vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics a key plank of the recovery. With new COVID variants spreading rapidly all over, we must have a sense of urgency to getting control of the pandemic. The WTO can and must play a more forceful role in exercising its monitoring function and encouraging Members to minimise or remove export restrictions and prohibitions that hinder supply chains for medical goods and equipment. The International Trade Centre recently reported that up to 100 countries still maintain export restrictions and prohibitions.” (emphasis added)

“1.10. WTO Members have a further responsibility to reject vaccine nationalism and protectionism. They should rather intensify cooperation on promising new vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. There should be a ‘third way’ to broaden access through facilitating technology transfer within the framework of multilateral rules, so as to encourage research and innovation while at the same time allowing licensing agreements that help scale up manufacturing of medical products.”

“1.11 * * * At MC12, the success of which is a top priority for us all, we must reach agreement on some pressing issues and elaborate on work programmes for others. Apart from the issues related to the pandemic, I hope that we would have finalised the fisheries subsidies negotiations, leaving MC12 as the venue to conclude on modalities for implementation.”

“1.12. Reform of the dispute settlement system, which has been a central element in guaranteeing security and predictability of the multilateral trading system, is of utmost importance to the membership. Some Members have criticised the way it functions and demanded reforms. It will be important to agree on the nature of these reforms, flesh them out, and develop a work programme for implementation that can be advanced at MC12. I believe that the set of recommendations proposed by Ambassador Walker could provide Members with a platform upon which to build so as to restore confidence in the dispute settlement system. A strengthened and robust system is in the interest of all Members, and as such, every effort should be made to improve it. We need a system that can garner the confidence of all, including small developing and least developed countries who have found it challenging to utilize.”

“1.13. The WTO rule book is outdated, and its rules lag behind those of several regional and bilateral trade agreements which are incorporating a lot of innovations. The rulebook must be updated to take account of 21st century realities such as e-commerce and the digital economy. The pandemic has heightened the importance and accelerated the role of e-commerce, which is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. E-commerce offers important opportunities for inclusivity of MSMEs and women in international trade, especially in developing countries. To make it possible for some developing and least developed countries to participate in the e-commerce negotiations, we must partner with governments and other organizations to bridge the digital divide. Success in the e-commerce negotiations could provide an impetus for reviving more broadly the negotiations on Trade in Services, a sector of increasing importance in the economy of most Members. Plurilateral initiatives have brought new energy in the Multilateral Trading System. Negotiating work on other joint statement initiatives – domestic regulation and investment facilitation – has continued fairly intensively despite the pandemic. Participants need to pursue their efforts to build support and attract interest from a significant part of the WTO membership, including from developing countries with a view to concluding at least the domestic regulation by MC12.”

“1.14. We should also work to ensure that the WTO best supports the green and circular economy and addresses more broadly the nexus between trade and climate change.”

“1.15. The WTO’s work in new or innovative areas does not mean that traditional topics such as agriculture are forgotten. Agriculture is particularly important for many developing and least developing countries. Improving market access for export products of interest to these countries is of paramount importance, as is dealing with trade distorting domestic support. The growing domestic support entitlements of Members must be addressed to level the playing field, so as to provide opportunities for small scale farmers. In addition, it is possible for an early agreement on removal of export restrictions including favorable consideration of the exemption of WFP humanitarian purchases. Likewise, we must also strengthen disciplines on industrial subsidies. In that regard, it would be important to ensure that subsidies granted by Members to their state-owned enterprises in certain situations do not distort the conditions of competition. The issue of Special and Differential Treatment (SDT) is a divisive one that undermines trust. However, the voluntary action of some developing country Members to not avail themselves of SDT in the future points a way forward, so does the Trade Facilitation Agreement which allowed for taking into account each Member’s particular development status.”

“1.16 * * * Transparency is the lifeblood of the system and every effort should be made to assist Members to meet their notification and transparency obligations. The development and streamlining of online tools, including the introduction of E-agendas is a step in the right direction. Some WTO rules and procedures also need to be revisited, including the procedures for appointing DGs. Regarding Ministerials, Article IV of the Marrakesh Agreement provides that ‘there shall be an MC composed of representatives of all Members which shall meet at least once every two years.’ In today’s fast changing, fast paced, but uncertain world, it may be opportune for members to review the frequency of Ministerials to assess whether yearly meetings would allow Members to better appraise the health of the MTS, surface problems, and together advance timely solutions. Furthermore, Members take decisions on the basis of consensus, and rightly so, since Article IX:1 of the Marrakesh Agreement provides that ‘the WTO shall continue the practice of decision-making by consensus followed under the GATT’ but Members must be vigilant that the quest for consensus does not create situations in which welfare enhancing innovations or approaches of benefit to the membership are frustrated.”

“1.17. The WTO Secretariat should be strengthened to enable it to provide cutting edge services to the membership in all relevant areas of WTO’s work, including implementation, monitoring, dispute settlement and negotiations. An important change will be to move away from the current siloed way of working to a more team and task-based approach. The Secretariat has to be fit for purpose to take account of the changing dynamics of the global economy and priorities of Members.”

During the press conference, Dr. Ngozi reviewed many of the above priorities but emphasized the critical importance of focusing first on the pandemic which means getting better control over export restraints and addressing the role the WTO can play in ensuring access to vaccines and other medical goods. Preparation for the 12th Ministerial Conference likely to take place near the end of 2021 is next and includes concluding the fisheries subsidies, progress on Joint Statement Initiatives (e.g., e-commerce, domestic regulations, etc.) and agreeing to a process for addressing the impasse on dispute settlement.

While yesterday’s Special Session was a time of celebration and expressions of support for the incoming Director-General, the ultimate success of the WTO under Dr. Ngozi’s leadership will depend on the ability of Members with very different interests to reach agreement on the road forward. Dr. Ngozi was selected in part for her promise to bring a fresh pair of eyes and push for a change in how the organization operates (“not business as usual”). But success is anything but assured. While Dr. Ngozi has focused on a lack of trust among Members, some have argued that it is really a lack of common purpose/objective among the membership that has resulted in an inability to move the organization forward. The move to bilateral and plurilateral agreements and Joint Statement Initiatives over the last dozen years is a reflection of the inability to get all Members on board initiatives to keep the organization moving forward. The twenty years that the fisheries subsidies negotiations have been dragging on and the inability of Members to focus on the objective of preserving fishing for future generations vs. minimizing the disciplines they accept reinforces the concern that the deep divisions among the membership doom multilateralism.

In a post from Saturday, I had urged Dr. Ngozi to think big in terms of her inner team and the four Deputies Director-General that will help her. See February 13, 2021, Leadership change at the WTO — with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s arrival next week, what support team and early changes in the role of the Secretariat could help WTO Members move forward?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/13/leadership-change-at-the-wto-with-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-arrival-next-week-what-support-team-and-early-changes-in-the-role-of-the-secretariat-could-help-wto-members-move-forward/. With all of the critical issues before the WTO, Dr. Ngozi will need as deep and talented a team as she can assemble to permit extension of her reach to avoid the stagnation that has characterized the organization, assuming common ground can be found among the Members.

Dr. Ngozi’s appointment has given the WTO a shot in the arm and given many hope that a brighter future lies ahead. The WTO clearly needs major reforms to recapture the role envisioned in the 1980s and early 1990s when it was being negotiated and created. Let’s hope that Dr. Ngozi will help find the path that Members will agree to pursue to return the WTO to relevance.

Below are embedded a few of the statements from yesterday of Members (U.S., EU, China, India).

U.S.-Statement-on-the-Appointment-of-New-Director-General-Dr.-Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala-_-U.S.-Mission-to-International-Organizations-in-Geneva

EU-Statement-at-the-General-Council-Special-Session-Appointment-of-the-next-Director-General-15-February-2021-European-External-Action-Service

Statement-by-H.E.-Ambassador-Li-Chenggang-at-the-Special-Meeting-of-the-General-Council

Welcome-to-Permanent-Mission-of-India-in-Geneva

WTO Special General Council meeting called for 3 p.m. on February 15, 2021 to consider appointment of a Director-General

Via communications sent out to the WTO membership on Tuesday, February 9, 2021, there will be a special General Council meeting next Monday, February 15, to consider the recommendation by the Chairman of the General Council, Amb. David Walker (NZ) that Members appoint Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Director-General of the WTO. the notices follow the withdrawal of the South Korean candidate, Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee last Friday and the press release from the United States Trade Representative’s Office last Friday that the U.S. strongly supported the candidacy of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. As other Members appeared to be on board with a consensus behind Dr. Okonjo-Iweala following the third round of consultations last October, movement by the Republic of Korea and the United States were the remaining steps for the Chairman of the General Council to be able to move forward with making his recommendation (supported by his facilitators) to the membership in a special General Council meeting. It is believed that Amb. Walker has been doing outreach to other Members since those announcements to confirm consensus and address any other issues relevant to the appointment of the next Director-General. So after the General-Council meeting next Monday, the WTO should finally have a new Director-General. The four Deputies Director-General have been jointly carrying on since the last Director-General departed at the end of August last year.

The two documents sent out today are embedded below.

Document-1

Document

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala — a review of her statements on important issues before the WTO ahead of her being confirmed as the Director-General

With the events of last Friday (Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee announcement of her withdrawal from consideration for the WTO Director-General position and the U.S. announcement of support for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be the next Director-General), it is assumed that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala will be confirmed as the new Director-General by the General Council in the next week or so. See February 5, 2021, Biden Administration throws support behind Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for next Director-General of the World Trade Organization, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/05/biden-administration-throws-support-behind-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-for-next-director-general-of-the-world-trade-organization/; February 5, 2021, WTO Director-General selection process — withdrawal of Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo important step to consensus behind Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/05/wto-director-general-selection-process-withdrawal-of-koreas-trade-minister-yoo-important-step-to-consensus-behind-nigerias-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala/.

During the summer and fall, I posted various reviews of positions being taken by candidates for the Director-General post. Below is information on a range of issues that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala spoke too during that period of time. There are, of course, dozens of issues of interest/importance to various WTO Members. The list below starts with some of the major concerns for countries like the United States. Later entries cover a much broader array of issues. Throughout the summer and fall, helping WTO Members get past the COVID-19 pandemic and obtain economic recovery were constant themes of importance both to Members and to all candidates for the WTO Director-General slot, including Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. Discussion of those themes can be seen in later entries on this post.

  1. Convergence of economic systems vs. coexistence of such systems within the WTO

I start with a post I did on November 10, 2020 examining “values” core to the WTO and reviewing Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s expressed approach to one of those values — convergence vs. coexistence. The post is copied below and is separately found at November 10, 2020, The values of the WTO – do Members and the final Director-General candidates endorse all of them?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/10/the-values-of-the-wto-do-members-and-the-final-director-general-candidates-endorse-all-of-them/.

“The values of the WTO” — do Members and the final Director-General candidates endorse all of them?

On November 6, Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff presented comments to the UN Chief Executives Board. In a press release, entitled “DDG Wolff shares views with international agency heads on future of multilateral cooperation,” the Secretariat provides a short introduction and then includes DDG Wolff’s comments including an Annex. See WTO, WTO and Other Organizations, DDG Wolff shares views with international agency heads on future of multilateral cooperation, 6 November 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/igo_06nov20_e.htm. The statement by DDG Wolff is worth reading in its entirety and presents information on the effects of the pandemic and the future of multilateralism including reforms needed for the WTO. However, for purposes of this post, I will focus on Annex 1 to his statement, entitled “The Values of the World Trade Organization. The Annex is copied below and generally reflects views DDG Wolff has presented in the past.

Annex I

The Values of the World Trade Organization

“In the current upsurge in criticism of the inadequacies of the collective responses to the pandemic, the WTO is receiving heightened scrutiny, and more urgent calls for WTO reform. It is necessary to understand the values that the multilateral trading system is designed to promote before it can be reformed.

“A serious inquiry into this subject would serve three purposes:

“to know the value of what we have in the current system,

“to determine if the values of the current system enjoy the support of all WTO members, and

“to address the degree to which the WTO is of sufficient continuing relevance as it is at present or whether it needs fundamental change.

“WTO members can make progress toward improving the organization to help it to create a better world through building on the values that are inherent in the system. These include –

Stability and peace — The original mission of the multilateral trading system was to enhance economic growth to achieve stability and support peace; today the WTO fosters integration of conflicted countries into the world economy.

Well-being — At its core, the organization is about the economic advancement of the people whom its members represent. Well-being is defined to include creating jobs and, as we are finding out, it also includes health;

Rule of law — The enforceability of obligations is a key distinguishing feature of the WTO as compared with most other international endeavours;

Openness – The multilateral trading system rests upon the principle that to the extent provided within the bounds of the WTO agreements, markets will be open to international trade and trade is to be as free from distortions as possible;

Equality — Equality among members provides the opportunity for each member to participate in the organization, and its rights and obligations, to the extent of its capabilities;

Sovereignty — Sovereignty is preserved — no decision taken within the WTO is to have an automatic effect on the laws or actions of any member;

Development — Fostering development to allow all members to benefit equally from the rights and undertake equally the obligations of the WTO.

International cooperation — Cooperation is a shared responsibility of membership to enable the organization to function.

Sustainability — There is increasingly an attitude of care among members for stewardship of the planet and its inhabitants.

The primacy of market forces — Commercial considerations are to determine competitive outcomes.

Convergence —The WTO is not simply about coexistence; differences among members affecting trade which deviate from the principles governing the WTO, its core values, are to be progressively overcome.

Reciprocity — Broadly defined reciprocity is required for negotiations to succeed.

Balance — is provided:

“Through each member’s judgment of the costs and benefits of the rights it enjoys and the obligations it has undertaken;

“Through its view of how its costs and benefits compare with those of other members;

“Through a member’s view of its freedom of action in relation to the freedom of action for others, and

“Specifically, through its judgment of whether it has sufficient freedom to act to temper its commitments for trade liberalization (openness) with measures designed to deal with any harms thereby caused.

Trust — International trade would largely cease if trade-restrictive measures that were inconsistent with the rules were as a regular matter put into place and only removed prospectively through lengthy litigation.

Morality — in its absence, it would be hard to fully explain the provision addressing pharmaceutical availability in health emergencies. The 1994 Marrakech Declaration states that the WTO was being created to reflect the widespread desire to operate in a fairer and more open multilateral trading system.

Universality — Membership is open to all who are willing to negotiate entry.”

Many of these “values of the WTO” are not controversial. Two are critical to the direction of the WTO moving forward — the primacy of market forces and convergence. These values are viewed as critical by the United States and as central by the EU, Japan, Brazil and others. China’s economic system is viewed as inconsistent with these values. See, e.g., February 22, 2020, WTO Reform – Addressing The Disconnect Between Market and Non-Market Economies, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/02/22/wto-reform-addressing-the-disconnect-between-market-and-non-market-economies/; Statement from Brazil, Japan and the United States, Importance of Market-Oriented Conditions to the World Trading System, WT/GC/W/803/Rev. 1 (2 October 2020); CHINA’S TRADE-DISRUPTIVE ECONOMIC MODEL,
COMMUNICATION FROM THE UNITED STATES, 16 July 2018, WT/GC/W/745.

China rejects the claim that its economic system is properly the subject of WTO scrutiny or that it hasn’t engaged in “reform”. Coexistence, not convergence is China’s view of the appropriate value within the WTO. See, e.g., Statement of H.E. Ambassador Zhang Xiangchen of China at the General Council Meeting (Item 7), October 13, 2020, http://wto2.mofcom.gov.cn/article/chinaviewpoins/202010/20201003007644.shtml; CHINA AND THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION, COMMUNICATION FROM CHINA, 19 July 2018, WT/GC/749; General Council, MINUTES OF THE MEETING, 26 July 2018, WT/GC/M/173 (5 October 2018)(pages 29-41). And, of course, while China is the largest economy with an economic system at odds with market-economy conditions, it is not the only one.

Importantly, the candidate found through consultations with the WTO membership to be most likely to attract consensus and hence be recommended by the Chair of the General Council and his facilitators to become the next Director-General of the WTO, Dr. Ngozi Oknojo-Iweala of Nigeria, has taken the view that the WTO’s role is not to exclude any economic system but is rather to determine if different economic systems create distortions in trade that need to be addressed through modifications to the rules. See, e.g., August 19, 2020 [updated August 27], The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where the candidates stand on important issues:  convergence vs. coexistence of different economic systems; possible reform of rules to address distortions from such economic systems – Part 2, comments by the candidates, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/19/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-the-candidates-stand-on-important-issues-convergence-vs-coexistence-of-different-economic-systems-possible-reform-of-rules-to-addre/; August 17, 2020, The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where the candidates stand on important issues:  convergence vs. coexistence of different economic systems; possible reform of rules to address distortions from such economic systems – Part 1, background on issues, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/17/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-the-candidates-stand-on-important-issues-convergence-vs-coexistence-of-different-economic-systems-possible-reform-of-rules-to-address-dist/.

Here is what I had written up based on Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s participation in a WITA webinar on July 21 and her answer to specific questions. The webinar can be found at https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-wto-dg-candidate-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala/.

“Q: On resetting of tariff commitments (comment from USTR Lighthizer as a problem within the WTO based on changing economic development of many countries), would this be in the best interest of the system? 

“A:  This is a critical question and issue.  Renegotiating any agreement would require consensus building that would be very difficult to achieve.  That would certainly be true on bound tariffs. The balance of rights and obligations raised by the United States flows from the concerns about state-led economies and state-owned enterprises and whether such economies belong in the system.  Dr. Okonjo-Iweala stated that the WTO is not there to comment on the economy of any Member.  In her view, the key question is what disciplines does the WTO have around any issue that arises.  Are the disciplines sufficient to address the imbalances in rights and obligations that may arise?  We need to start there.  What are the fundamental issues —  state-owned enterprises (SOEs), public body.  Can we come to agreement on the meaning of the term public body?  Can we tighten subsidy disciplines that already exist or can we negotiate new subsidy or other disciplines to address the concerns that arise from these types of economies? That is the approach all Members should be pursuing. 

“Q: On industrial subsidies, China has signaled that they will oppose tightening disciplines.  The U.S., EU and Japan have been working on a proposal and discussing with some Members.  How can the Director-General help the membership navigate these issues? 

“A:  If Dr. Okonjo-Iweala becomes the next Director-General, she would encourage that proposals from the U.S., EU and Japan be tabled so all Members can see what they are and how acceptable they are to other Members (including China).  Let’s start to work with an actual proposal.  Sometimes countries are not as far away as one might think.  Members need to work on a specific proposal and see what happens.”

Conclusion

The WTO is a different organization in 2020 than it was when it started in 1995 or when its basic structure and agreements were being negotiated during 1986-1994. Major economies have joined and some have economic systems that are significantly different than the traditional economies who led the GATT. The question of how to deal with different economic systems within the global trading system has not been addressed directly although some would argue that the U.S., EU and others have worked hard during accession negotiations to get commitments from acceding countries to engage in reform if the economy is based on state-control or other deviations from a market economy. For an economy like China’s, there were early reforms, some of which have been reversed over time and others which were never in fact implemented.

While evaluation of distortions caused by different economic systems is certainly an approach that can be pursued, it starts from a premise of coexistence of economic systems within the WTO and assumes rules can be formed that will adequately address all distortions created by non-market factors in a given economy. But the “convergence” value and the “primacy of market forces” value are fundametal to a system where the results of competition will be viewed as acceptable by all Members. In a consensus system, the refusal of a major player like China to agree to these values limits the likely options to other Members but clearly endangers the ability of the WTO to fulfil its core functions in ways that are acceptable to all.

That the likely next Director-General has taken a position that is at odds with the two WTO values identified in Annex 1 of DDG Wolff’s presentation from November 6 is understandable in a consensus system where there is obvious disagreement among WTO Members on the particular values. However, if moving forward with reform, the WTO membership and its Director-General fail to get Members to agree on the core values, such failure will ensure the WTO will not be the sole arbitrator of trade matters going forward.

2. Reform of the Appellate Body

Below are excerpts from my August 10 post looking at the candidates’ views on reform of the Appellate Body. See August 10, 2020 [updated August 27], The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where candidates are on important issues:  reform of the Appellate Body, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/10/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-candidates-are-on-important-issues-reform-of-the-appellate-body/

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria):

From her prepared statement, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had relatively short statements about the Appellate Body: “A refreshed WTO must find solutions to the stalemate over dispute settlement. It is clear that a rules-based system without a forum in which a breach of the rules can be effectively arbitrated loses credibility over time.” “I would also prioritize updating the rulebook, unlocking the dispute settlement system, working on transparency and notification, enhancing the work of regular bodies, and strengthen the Secretariat.”

While Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was asked many questions at the press conference, none dealt with the Appellate Body.

WITA had a webinar with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on July 21. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-wto-dg-candidate-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala/

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala noted that addressing the Appellate Body impasse was a priority for the next Ministerial and repeated her view that a WTO without effective dispute settlement would lose its legitimacy over time.

In response to a question on how she would restore dispute settlement, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala noted that there is a common desire among WTO Members to have the dispute settlement system work and function. The question is how. There is a common belief that the panel process has been working well, so that places the focus on the Appellate Body. To address the various issues that have been raised by the United States, the WTO has the work product of the Walker process (note: Amb. Walker (NZ) was a facilitator to the General Council in 2019 to see if he could work with Members to find a solution to issues raised by the U.S.). Some of the proposals made by Amb. Walker can be used to move the process forward. The U.S. is seeking to go back to what the existing Dispute Settlement Understanding requires — 90 days for decisions, not creating rights or obligations (“overreach”), Appellate Body members working on appeals after their terms have expired, etc. We should take them up one at a time and find solutions that work. Can Members agree that appeals should be resolved in 90 days? Very likely. Can Members agree that the Appellate Body is limited to reviewing issues of law and not reviewing fact finding by panels? Very likely.

3. Eligibility for special and differential treatment (self selection as developing country)

In my August 13, 2020 post, I looked at the candidates’ views on the issue of whether change was needed for who qualified for special and differential treatment. See August 13, 2020 [updated August 27], The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where candidates are on important issues:  eligibility for special and differential treatment/self selection as a developing country, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/13/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-candidates-are-on-important-issues-eligibility-for-special-and-differential-treatment-self-selection-as-a-developing-country/. Excerpts of what was written on Dr. Okonjo-Iweala are copied below.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s prepared statement directly notes the differing positions on the issue of special and differential treatment and also mentions concerns of Members in terms of imbalances in rights and obligations and distribution of gains (which presumably includes the U.S. concern about high bound tariff rates of many countries who have gone through significant ecoonomic growth in the last 25 years).

“Members’ views differ on a number of fundamental issues, such as special and differential treatment or the need for the WTO to tackle new issues and develop new or enhanced rules to deal with SOEs and agricultural subsidies, for example.”

“While a key objective of the WTO is the liberalization of trade for the mutual benefit of its Members, it appears that this very concept is now a divisive issue as a result of the perceived imbalances in the rights and obligations of Members and the perceived uneven distribution of the gains from trade. I would constantly remind Members about the value of the MTS and help energize them to work harder to overcome the challenges that have paralyzed the WTO over the years.”

During the press conference on July 15th, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was not a question on S&D treatment, classification of developing countries or on tariff bindings.

WITA had a webinar with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on July 21. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-wto-dg-candidate-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala/. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her opening comments identified the issue of special and differential treatment as an issue that could be considered as part of WTO reform, although it wasn’t in her list of topics for tackling by the next WTO Ministerial Conference. She was asked a question about how to restore trust among Members and used that question to review her thoughts on special and differential treatment and the question of self-selection by Members as developing countries. Below is my summary of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s discussion of the issue.

One issue being pushed by the United States and others that is very divisive is the issue of special and differential treatment and self-selection of developing country status.  The concern of those wanting a change is that self-selection and the automatic entitlement to S&D treatment shifts the balance of rights and obligations to advanced developing countries.  There is no disagreement that least-developed countries need special and differential treatment. In her view, the real question is whether other countries that view themselves as developing should get special and differential treatment automatically.  Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala believes the WTO needs a creative approach to resolve the issue.  For example, Members should address the need of individual Members for special and differential treatment on a negotiation by negotiation basis.  Members should, as part of each negotiation, consider what other Members believe their needs are based on level of development.  She references the Trade Facilitation Agreement as an example where Members took on obligations based on their level of development vs. a one size fits all approach.  Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala believes that if the Members can reach a resolution on this issue, the resolution would help build trust among Members and hence help the WTO move forward.

4. Multilateral fisheries subsidies negotiations and Joint Statement Initiative on e-commerce/digital trade

In my post of August 23, I reviewed two important negotiations that were ongoing then and are still ongoing at the present time — the multilateral talks on fisheries subsidies and the Joint Statement Initiative of e-commerce/digital trade. See August 23, 2020 [updated August 27], The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where the candidates stand on important issues:  fisheries subsidies and e-commerce/digital trade, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/23/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-the-candidates-stand-on-important-issues-fisheries-subsidies-and-e-commerce-digital-trade/. Excerpts of what was written on Dr. Okonjo-Iweala are copied below.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala mentions both concluding the fisheries subsidies negotiations and updating the WTO rules to include rules on e-commerce. She adds the need to bridge the digital divide so that any such rules will have broader application and broader input.

“The WTO appears paralysed at a time when its rule book would greatly benefit from an update to 21st century issues such as e-commerce and the digital economy, the green and circular economies. Issues of women and trade and Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are important to ensure greater inclusion. Bridging the digital divide to enable Least Developed Countries and other developing countries to participate will be key.”

“My vision is also of a rejuvenated and strengthened WTO that will be confident to tackle effectively ongoing issues such as the fisheries negotiations. With political will, outstanding issues of subsidies that lead to overfishing and unsustainable fishing can be concluded.”

“A rejuvenated WTO must also take on fresh challenges, such as ensuring optimal complementarity between trade and the environment and ensuring that WTO rules best respond to the realities of e-commerce and the opportunities and challenges of the digital economy.”

“Should I be elected, I would work with Members to prioritize delivering a successful MC12 with good outcomes on fisheries, agriculture and other areas. I would also prioritize updating the rulebook * * *.”

During the press conference on July 15 after her meeting with the General Council, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was asked a question on what progress in negotiations was achievable by the next Ministerial Conference and was also asked a question on how she would work towards ensuring a successful outcome on e-commerce negotiations. My notes on her responses to those questions follow.

On the question of what is achievable by the next Ministerial in 2021 and whether it is best to go after issues one at a time or in a larger grouping, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala indicated that she hoped the WTO Membership would make a decision soon on who should be Director-General so whoever is selected has more time before the next Ministerial. But even if a decision is not made until November 2020, there are some areas that could be ready by the next Ministerial. For example, a fisheries subsidies agreement should be achievable. There was a lot of discussion in the General Council on trust and building trust to move negotiations along. Trust is obviously an important issue. So the WTO may need to sequence issues to build trust by achieving a win or two. Once there are some successes, it should be possible to handle more issues in parallel.

The question on what Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would do as Director-General to see that an agreement on e-commerce was pursued was answered by noting that there was extensive work being done plurilaterally by many Members as one of a number of joint statement initiatives. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala agrees that an agreement on e-commerce is very important, but she notes that there is a digital divide where many poorer countries don’t have the infrastructure to take advantage of e-commerce. The WTO, working with other multilateral organizations, needs to see that resources are put together to help countries address the digital divide. Once the digital divide is addressed, all Members should want to and be able to participate in the e-commerce negotiations, so that the agreement becomes a multilateral one.

WITA had a webinar with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on July 21. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-wto-dg-candidate-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala/. During the webinar, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala made an opening statement in which she reviewed the need to generate some early wins for the WTO at the 12th Ministerial Conference including both fisheries subsidies and e-commerce. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was also asked speciically about e-commerce and digital trade and how to move those talks forward. Below are my notes on those portions of the webinar.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala stated that the WTO is really at a critical moment, an existential crisis.  She believes that something needs to be done to give a lift to the organization.  Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would focus as Director-General on the next Ministerial Conference and what wins could be obtained at the Conference.  She believes that concluding the fisheries subsidies negotiations with its issues of overcapacity and overfishing should be pursued and could be concluded even before the Ministerial Conference.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala also believes that the WTO must update the rule book to cover 21st century issues.  As she has noted, the digital economy is driving the world during the COVID-19 pandemic and is of great importance to many Members.  Dr. Okonjo-Iweala believes that the WTO needs to develop rules for e-commerce as e-commerce is the future of much of trade. At the same time, the WTO must address the digital divide so participation and benefits are available to all.

Q: On e-commerce and digital trade, how do you see rules being developed? Should the rules be based on the historic principles of the WTO?

A:  Dr. Okonjo-Iweala believes that ecommerce and digital trade are very important topics. The WTO must ensure two things. First, traditional WTO principles should apply (non-discrimination, etc.).  She believes that it would be important to get many more countries to join the talks. Stated differently, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala believes the WTO should always prefer a multilateral negotiation and agreement. However, sometimes plurilaterals are needed to make progress.  Second, the WTO working with other organizations needs to address the digital divide. In Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s view, the fact that many developing countries are not participating flows from the fact that they don’t have the infrastructure to engage in e-commerce to a significant extent and hence neither participate in the talks nor gain benefits.  This is the digital divide.  WTO is not a financial institution, so the WTO needs to team with other organizations to help developing countries overcome the digital divide which will permit these Members to then participate in the negotiations.  Dr. Okonjo-Iweala also believes that the level of commitments under an e-commerce agreement will need to vary based on the ability of Members to accept obligations and to contribute.

5. Summary of Prepared Statement to the General Council in July and the press conference immediately thereafter

On July 19, 2020, I posted my summary of the prepared statement of each candidate and the answers to questions posed at the press conference immediately thereafter. The summary provides a fuller picture of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s views on a range of issues important to the functioning of the WTO moving forward. See July 19, 2020, The eight candidates for WTO Director-General meet the General Council – recap of prepared statements and press conferences, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/19/the-eight-candidates-for-wto-director-general-meet-the-general-council-recap-of-prepared-statements-and-press-conferences/. I copy below what I had included on Dr. Okonjo-Iweala.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala (Nigeria)

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her prepared statement includes sincere condolences for all who have lost a family member from COVID-19 in French. Later in her statement, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala includes a phrase from her native igbo language, and she gives thank yous in six languages. The main part of her statement is in English. Her statement reviews her record at the World Bank, her time as Finance Minister in Nigeria and her role as Chair of Gavi to stress her ability to achieve reform and to work with other multilateral organizations and her focus on the needs of development and the role trade plays in development.

Looking at the challenges confronting the WTO, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala flags a negotiating function that is underperforming “at a time when its rule book would greatly benefit from an update to 21st century issues such as e-commerce and the digital economy, the green and circular economies. Issues of women and trade and Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are import to ensure greater inclusion.” (pages 2-3). Other challenges include improving transparency and notifications, improving the functioning of the regular WTO bodies and strengthening the Secretariat. There are important differences on issues such as SOEs and agricultural subsidies amongst Members and increased trade tensions.

These problems are exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis which have resulted in export restraints by some and stimulus packages which may “undermine WTO commitments by distorting production and trade.” (page 4).

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala reviewed why she believes she is the person to be the next Director-General:

  1. She is a strong believer in the role of trade and of the multilateral trading system to bring shared prosperity. She brings a “fresh pair of eyes to the WTO’s challenges.”
  2. Need to build trust. Not a question of technical expertise but rather political will/solutions.
  3. She has a proven track record in carrying out successful reforms which is what will be needed at the WTO going forward.

After reviewing the range of pending issues before the WTO that need to be completed or addressed, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala reviews the need to work closely with other multilateral organizations and the UN and her ability to improve cooperation with these other entities.

“The rules-based MTS is a public good that underpins peace, security, stability and a chance for prosperity in the world. Every effort should therefore be made to safeguard, improve and renew it to enable it effectively address the challenges of the 21st century.” (Page 11)

During the press conference, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala provided her short statement and then received a large number of questions. Her short statement was that trade is important for the 21st century, for prosperity, resilience and growth. The WTO is at the center of global trade.

She was asked about whether three candidates from Africa hurt her chances to be selected, what she views as the role of the Director-General, how she views the question of fair trade particularly between north and south, what she believes is achievable in terms of deliverables by the next WTO Ministerial Conference in 2021, what she would say to the U.S. President on why the U.S. should stay in the WTO, what the WTO can do to ensure that small and micro-businesses survive the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, what her selection as the next Director-General would mean for women in Nigeria, if selected the next Director-General what would she do to ensure availability of medical supplies to all countries, and whether her perceived lack of a trade background was a handicap in the competition to become the next Director-General.

Her response on the question about multiple candidates from Africa was that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala viewed that it was a positive that there were three qualified candidates from Africa and not a problem. It is up to the Members to select from all of the candidates, a process which should focus on who is the best candidate. If from Africa, great.

On the question of the role of the Director-General, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala views the role to be working with Members to help them reach consensus. It is important that starting with the next Ministerial, the WTO show movement to achieve results.

On the question of fair trade, particularly between north and south, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala noted that the WTO’s role is to support all members to take advantage of fair and open trade. Where the South is getting fewer benefits from global trade, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would use the instruments available to the WTO Director-General (e.g., Aid for Trade, working with other multilateral organizations) to get resources to South Members to improve their position in international trade.

On the question of what is achievable by the next Ministerial in 2021 and whether it is best to go after issues one at a time or in a larger grouping, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala indicated that she hoped the WTO Membership would make a decision soon on who should be Director-General so whoever is selected has more time before the next Ministerial. But even if a decision is not made until November 2020, there are some areas that could be ready by the next Ministerial. For example, a fisheries subsidies agreement should be achievable. There was a lot of discussion in the General Council on trust and building trust to move negotiations along. Trust is obviously an important issue. So the WTO may need to sequence issues to build trust by achieving a win or two. Once there are some successes, it should be possible to handle more issues in parallel.

On the question of why the U.S. should stay in the WTO, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would communicate that the WTO delivers for all Members. The GATT and WTO have provided shared prosperity which has lifted millions out of poverty. Where the trading system is not working, Members need to fix the problems. Peace, security and stability are needed now just as they have been over the last decades. These are what the WTO rules-based system provides. If we didn’t have the WTO, we would need to invent it.

On the question of MSMEs, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala noted that they are very important globally but are being harmed by COVID-19 fallout. How to ensure MSMEs survive and get such entities better included in the global trading system is a matter of great interest to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. There is a great need to facilitate provision of additional resources to help these entities. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would work with other multilateral organizations to help facilitate assistance.

On the question of what will her getting selected Director-General of the WTO would mean for women in Nigeria, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala noted that women not just in Nigeria but around the world are ready for greater roles. But Dr. Okonjo-Iweala reiterated that selection of the WTO Director-General should be based on merit–if a woman, great; if from Africa, great.

On the question of what she would do as Director-General to ensure smooth trade of medical goods including therapeutics and vaccines, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala indicated that she would use the knowledge she has from the chair of GAVI and working with other groups and organizations to ensure that the WTO did its part to ensure equitable and afforadable access to any vaccines developed to address COVID-19. There should be no barriers to access to the medicines/vaccines while honoring intellectual property rights. It is critical that everyone have access to lifesaving medicines at the same time and at affordable prices.

On the question of whether the consensus rule at the WTO should be gotten rid of to overcome gridlock, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala responded that part of the strength of WTO is that agreements are reached by consensus. Where all sovereign states agree to a text, they are more likely to implement the provisions. The real question is how to make consensus better. In Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s view, the underlying problem with the current consensus system is the lack of trust among the Members. Thus, there is an urgent need to rebuild trust. To rebuild trust, the WTO needs confidence building measures, i.e., obtaining wins in achieving new agreements. That will show that consensus can and does work.

The question on what Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would do as Director-General to see that an agreement on e-commerce was pursued was answered by noting that there was extensive work being done plurilaterally by many Members as one of a number of joint statement initiatives. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala agrees that an agreement on e-commerce is very important, but she notes that there is a digital divide where many poorer countries don’t have the infrastructure to take advantage of e-commerce. The WTO, working with other multilateral organizations, needs to see that resources are put together to help countries address the digital divide. Once the digital divide is addressed, all Members should want to and be able to participate in the e-commerce negotiations, so that the agreement becomes a multilateral one.

On the question of whether her career in finance is a handicap for a trade position, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala disagrees with the premise as her career has always involved trade as a development economist and also as finance minister where Customs was part of her responsibilities.

6. Minutes of meeting with the General Council

The WTO minutes from the meeting each candidate had with the General Council during July was published in October. My post of October 15, 2020 provides a summary of questions posed to each candidate and embedded the full General Council minutes of the meeting. See October 15, 2020, WTO remaining candidates for the Director-General position – questions and answers from the July 15 and 16 meetings with the General Council, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/15/wto-remaining-candidates-for-the-director-general-questions-and-answers-from-the-july-15-and-16-meetings-with-the-general-council/. The portion of my summary on Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is copied below.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s questions came from Afghanistan, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Norway, New Zealand, South Africa, European Union, Paraguay, Estonia, Australia, Latvia, Guatemala, Japan, Mongolia, Brazil, and Malaysia. The questions dealt with a range of issues including the following sample:

  • The negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on developing countries, LDCs and small vulnerable economies (SVEs).
  • How to ensure the benefits of open trade are distributed equitably?
  • What steps will you undertake to ensure a multilateral outcome at the next Ministerial?
  • Role of the Director-General (DG) in addressing lack of trust among Members.
  • Role of the DG in facilitating economic recovery and resilience.
  • What is necessary to restore functioning of a binding, two-step dispute settlement system in the WTO?
  • Do transparency and notification obligations need to be strengthened?
  • Focus in the first 100 days.
  • Your initial approach to the reform of the WTO.
  • What kind of approach and efforts would you like to make to advance the subject of e-commerce?
  • Role of plurilaterals in the WTO.
  • How to deal with the different views on special and differential treatment?
  • What are your plans relating to empowering women in the future WTO agenda?

Each candidate in their summing up at the end of her meeting with the General Council circled back to their prepared statement. Their short summing up statements are copied below.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (page 26):

“The nature of the questions that I have heard and the nature of the discussions give me hope. Members are clearly interested in a WTO that works, in a WTO that is different from what we have now, in a WTO that shows a different face to the world. I can see it and I can feel it. And if ever I am selected as Director-General, that gives me hope that there is a foundation to work on. Before coming in here, I have spoken to several Members, but I did not really know that. From listening to all of you and fielding your questions, I now know that there is a basis to work on. And I want to thank you for it.

“And I really want to end where I began. Trade is very important for a prosperous and a recovered world in the 21st century. The WTO is at the centre of this. A renewed WTO is a mission that we must all undertake, and we need every Member, regardless of economic size, to participate in this. If we want the world to know who we are as the WTO, we have to commit. Having listened to you, I hear the commitment and I want to thank you sincerely for that.”

The questions and answers are contained on pages 19-26 of WT/GC/M/185 and are copied below.

  • Questions and Answers2
    Q: You mentioned that you have been a Board Chair of GAVI. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a very significant negative impact on trade and economies of all countries especially in the case of developing countries, LDCs and SVEs. What do you think should be done to ensure that these countries can rely on the multilateral trading system to help them move out of this crisis? (Afghanistan)
    A: Probably the COVID-19 pandemic is one the most serious issues of our time. To answer your question, I think we have to look at it both from the short-term and the longer-term perspective. To aid the developing countries, the vulnerable economies and the world, we need to look at the short term responses that have happened with COVID-19. Some export restrictions have been put by some on the export of medical supplies and even of food. So, first, it would be good to look at those in the short term if they are temporary, proportionate and transparent and if Members are fading them out as promised. Otherwise, we have to work to unlock such measures in order to make sure that medical supplies and food are available, especially to the food import dependent countries that will need access to them. This is also an issue in the longer term to ensure that while we make efforts to keep trade open for those countries that cannot manufacture their own medical supplies or equipment or their own food for them to be able to import essential items, we should balance it with the consideration of enabling those countries who want the ability to manufacture some of these things to do so. That is something we need to watch. But from where I sit, the issue of vaccines and making sure that that is available when a vaccine is proven and of quality, is critically important, especially for developing countries and vulnerable economies. So, in the longer term, we have to ensure that we have an open, flexible trading system that allows imports or exports of these
    medicines and medical supplies and vaccines to countries that cannot manufacture them. A second aspect of the impact of COVID-19 has to do with the world economy recovering from the deep recession that the world is going into. The IMF has forecasted that the world economy is going to contract by about 5%-6% and some of the vulnerable and small economies may contract even more. So, finding a means for trade to play the role it should to continue with its recovery efforts in these economies and the world will be vital. Making trade an instrument of economic recovery will be of great assistance, not only to developing countries and small and vulnerable economies, but to the world as a whole. It should be an instrument to help the world recover.
    Q: The world economy has changed quite significantly in recent decades. The question is the challenge to the WTO in responding to the changed nature of the world economy. How do we ensure that the benefits of open trade are distributed equitably, particularly to meet the needs of developing countries, and how can we guarantee that that happens through negotiations in the period ahead? (Ireland)
    A: The world economy has indeed changed and continues to change. If you look at the data, you will find that trade in goods have been declining in terms of its rate of growth, while that of services and data flow across borders have been growing exponentially. Digital trade and e-commerce have also become important. So, to respond to these challenges, I talked about the need to update the rulebook of the WTO to take account of these challenges of the world, be it for e-commerce and the digital economy, environment and climate change, women and MSMEs. We need to update the rulebook and facilitate the discussions to meet these challenges. In terms of LDCs, we need to make sure that the changing trading environment benefits them. Some of the provisions for LDCs in terms of Aid for Trade and EIF would, for example, be a means of supporting them to be able to strengthen their participation in the multilateral trading system, so that they could benefit from it. We need to pay particular attention to the needs of the LDCs – the most closely identified group of the WTO, in which there are 47 Members. The policy space for them to develop is particularly important, and strengthening them through Aid for Trade and technical assistance to be able to benefit from world trade is also very important and should enable them to increase their gains from trade. In addition to that, we should also look at issues of MSMEs that are quite common in these countries and try to see how we can support these and strengthen them both with policies behind the border, as well as outside to enable them to participate and benefit more from the world trade system. This would also
    help the LDCs.
  • [2 The following delegations also[ submitted their names to ask a question to the candidate: Barbados,
    Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Finland, France, Gabon, The Gambia, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Italy, Jamaica, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mali, Nepal, The Netherlands, Panama, Philippines, Romania, Russian Federation, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Sri Lanka,
    Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, Turkey, United States, Uruguay and Zimbabwe.]
    Q: In your presentation, you touched upon your priority issues for MC12. If elected, what concrete steps will you undertake to ensure a multilateral outcome at MC12? (Kazakhstan)
    A: MC12 is probably one of the most important things facing the WTO. From that perspective, it would be very important to have good outcomes from MC12 in order to show the world that the WTO is back, the WTO is rejuvenated, the WTO is relevant. I am afraid that if we do not have those kinds of outcomes from MC12, we will continue to have a view of the WTO, of an organization that is fleeting in relevance. I do not think that that is right because I strongly believe that the WTO is needed. So, I will be looking for issues where we could have successful outcomes where Members working together could agree. For instance, the fisheries negotiations have been ongoing and I hope that they will be concluded perhaps even before the end of the year or before MC12. It would be my hope and expectation that the remaining issues about subsidies, if you want to call them bad subsidies, that lead to overcapacity and overfishing would be agreed especially on how to deal with them, including what disciplines to put around them – and the issue of supporting small scale fisheries would also be agreed. With political will, I know we can do it. So, this will be a top priority. With respect to agriculture, if there cannot be agreement reached, I would hope that the discussions and conversations will at least move along. I know the issues of domestic support, PSH, SSM and other issues are topical, and I would hope that we will be able to move along on those and other
    areas, including market access. As I said, if not for an outcome, we must at least advance those discussions. I would also hope that we would be able to advance discussions on issues like MSMEs and women and trade. There are also some plurilateral negotiations that more than a hundred Members are participating in, like investment facilitation. I would hope that we could also advance on those negotiations. These are my priorities for MC12. If we could get those kinds of outcomes on fisheries, movement on agriculture, movement on women and trade, movement on MSMEs, that would be something that would show the world something new and something successful for the WTO.
    Q: Could you briefly describe the WTO within four words during the four years of your leadership? (Ukraine)
    A: I can only think of one word that reflects what I would want the WTO to be and look like within four years of my leadership – and that is “great”.
    Q: Many point to the lack of trust between, in particular, major players as one of the main reasons why it is difficult to create progress, in particular in the negotiating pillar, but also in the reform agenda in general. Do you see a role for the Director-General in addressing the trust issue between the major players? And if you see a role, how would you then approach that issue? What would be your contribution, and do you have experience in your long career that can be relevant to that task? (Norway)
    A: I mentioned in my speech that the issues and challenges confronting the WTO are not purely of a technical nature because they would have already been solved if such was the case. So, the question about the political context is absolutely right. There has been a background from what I understand or can see of, maybe, lack of trust between major Members, but also, maybe sometimes, between developing and developed Members. I think the only way that I know to build trust is to find areas of common interest where there is interconnection that you can begin to build and bring the parties together. This is where the Director-General of the WTO, who has no direct power and can only work through influence with Members, can contribute. Influence can be proactive. You need an energetic, committed and proactive DG who can help do this and find those interconnections. Sometimes, when people seem to have disagreements, if you listen carefully, there are areas where they actually agree. And if you can begin to build on those areas and have some win-win results, that would begin to build trust. Talking about building trust, talking alone does not bring it. It helps but it does not bring it. You build trust only with action. So, we must find those actions that will help build trust. And it will take time, but we can do it. So, that is what I will do. With respect to the major powers, this is a very challenging issue because it is very political. But as DG, I would do my best. One of the things that I would try to convey to the major powers is that I think both are interested in a multilateral trading system that also helps developing countries and vulnerable economies that function for the whole world. I would seek to remind them that they had benefited from this in developing their economies and can still benefit again. I would look for those intersections where again one can begin to bring them together around common or shared interests because I think there are some. Every Member is interested in a dispute settlement system that works, for instance. We must think of ways on how we can begin to build confidence and trust in some small actions leading to big ones between Members that can lead them again to begin to work together for the WTO. As I said, I had a long career at the World Bank as Minister of Finance. Using that, I have been able to establish bridges and contacts where I can reach levels where policy decisions are being made. If you need to solve this, you have to first work with the Ambassadors but you also have to reach those people who are making the decisions and be able to talk and to listen to them to understand what their issues are. That is the way you can see the interconnections that you can use to build bridges and then actually begin to build them. I believe I have the contacts in both powers to be able to do this. And this is what I would bring if I am elected to be the next WTO Director-General. There is no easy way in building trust, but I think it can be done. And the DG
    should actively and proactively work with Members to do this.
    Q: Why do you think the WTO has struggled so much over the past decade to conclude substantive multilateral outcomes and what will you do as DG to change that? (New Zealand)
    A: Some of what I said before lies at the crux of the struggle with negotiations. The issue of lack of trust among Members that has diminished over time has made it more difficult. When one side brings an issue, sometimes the other side thinks there is nothing in it for them. When that side brings an issue, the other side thinks they are doing this to stop my interests from being realised. It is a fundamental lack of trust that has led to struggles to complete or conclude negotiations. This is where one has to work really hard. As I said before, the only way to build trust is to find some common areas where Members agree. In the multilateral negotiations that is ongoing for fisheries, this has been progressing relatively well and I believe that it is possible to come to an outcome. I am hopeful that a successful outcome to this would then lead Members again to believe they can work together, that they can tackle some of the difficult issues, and that they can again reinstate their ability to negotiate. I think this is part of the issue. Perhaps in the past, there were some negotiations that did not go so well and trust was broken. That has fundamentally been the problem. There are issues under the Doha Development Agenda where Members did not agree and since then it has been quite difficult. Much as we talk of difficulty, I see light at the end of the tunnel. I am
    really hopeful that we are going to have those outcomes. With that, trust will begin to come back. As DG, I would actively, off the bat, start working hard with Members to make sure that we have such an outcome because it will be a bridge to better work together for negotiations.
    Q: The world is facing the depressed recession likely to dwarf the 2008 and 2009 financial crisis. How do you see your role in facilitating a multilateral trading system that contributes to economic recovery and resilience? (South Africa)
    A: This is the critical question of our time. How do we get the multilateral trading system to play the role it should play to aid economic recovery in the world? As I have said, there are short-term aspects of it and longer-time ones. In the short term, we must remove those restrictions that impede trade, so that countries will be able to have access to the supplies and goods they need to be able to recover. In the longer term, I believe that liberalization of trade is also important if trade is to contribute to lifting the world out of recession. As we see it, the world economy focused to contract by 5%, while trade, according to the statistics, I saw would contract probably by 18%. And this is deep, so we have to work hard to find those levels that will enable trade to contribute. Removing the restrictions and making sure they do not reappear in the longer term, liberalizing trade, working on new issues, energizing new issues that could lead to more trade in the world, being inclusive and working on MSMEs and ensuring that there are no unduly high tariffs against goods and services that will allow us to trade more in those items, would be positive contributions of the multilateral trading system. In addition, for LDCs and SVEs, we must also see how to support them with behind the-border issues like investment in their economies, for them to be able to participate more and better to the multilateral trading system, because that is how they will come out of their current challenges. We must also look at the massive amount of stimulus liquidity that have been put in the economies for recovery. The stimulus packages are quite rightly done because we need that for the
    world economy to recover. But we have to make sure that they do not result in trade-distorting measures that can inhibit trade, that should help the world recover and that we phase out this liquidity and the stimulus in a good way that promotes trade and does not inhibit it. So, it is a basket of measures. Some of them are trade related while others are behind the borders to help countries because they need additional help and assistance for them to participate. If I were DG, I would do this by working very closely with some other multilateral organizations. I will work closely with the World Bank and IMF to look for resources, including the regional development banks, so that if we want to increase and if we want trade to assist, we need to also look at what countries need for investment and for strengthening their ability to trade behind the borders. So, getting resources and working in a policy-coherent fashion with these organizations to help Members to better trade would be the kinds of issues that I would look at as the Director-General.
    Q: In your view, what would be necessary to restore the functioning of a binding, twostep dispute settlement system in the WTO? (European Union)
    A: The restoration of a binding, two-step dispute settlement system is one of the most fundamental issues that have to be tackled if the WTO is to be seen as continuing to function. You cannot have a rules-based organization without a forum in which disputes can be brought and settled. Otherwise, as I said in my speech, it loses credibility over time. So, it is absolutely essential that we work to restore this two-step system. I would look at some of the issues that different Members have with the dispute settlement system – be it the issue of the length of time it takes for the Appellate Body to come to some answer to, or resolution of, the cases before it, or the 90-day limitation, be it looking at mandates whether it is making judgments or reaching conclusions beyond the covered agreements that Members have reached. These are some of the issues that are being questioned. There are also some Members that feel that there are structural issues that inhibit them from participating in the two-step system. These are all the thing that I will look at. There have been some arrangements like the MPIA that about 19 countries, including the EU, have come together to propose as an interim measure. There was also the Walker Process that has been undertaken and there are some elements and suggestions in there that we could build on to restore the two-tier dispute settlement system. Whatever we do about it, it has to come out as a system that is
    independent, impartial and that works within a specified mandate. It has to be a system that all Members can have confidence and trust in.
    Q: In the context of the pandemic and the tensions between Members, what additional role do you think that the organization could play in the growing uncertainty in trade to show the added value of keeping a multilateral trading system? (Paraguay)
    A: In the context of this pandemic, with all the uncertainty that it brings to the global economy and to the world, and in the context of the tensions between Members, I really do think that the organization, in order to show that it is relevant and that it can add value, has to have some wins that can demonstrate that the multilateral trading system is functioning, alive and well. There are two parts in this regard. If in the first part it would be necessary to have a good outcome on an area of negotiations that would materially improve trade for Members, such as in fisheries, and we can see that spur in trade. If we can support small scale fisheries within that which is important to many countries, Members and people around the world, including the common woman and man, will begin to see that the WTO is about people and it is for people. Therefore, they will begin to know the value that the multilateral trading system will have if we can have agreements that can lead us to increase trade in the world and use the multilateral trading system as an instrument to recover from this recession and this crisis. The WTO can be a part of that in spurring this and making sure that we come to either new agreements that can spur or liberalize trade or existing agreements that we can move in order for Members to be able to trade more. I think that will bring confidence. We need to take actions that will make the world and Members see that the WTO is alive, well and functioning – a rejuvenated WTO that is adding value to the multilateral trading system.
    Q: Do you think that transparency and notification obligations concerning trade measures need to be strengthened? How can this be done? (Estonia)
    A: This is an important question. Transparency and notification need to be strengthened. Transparency is one key factor that is essential in the multilateral trading system. If there is no transparency and Members are not notified ahead of time of actions in the trading system of Members, then this brings uncertainty. And uncertainty for business is not a good thing. As I mentioned, it makes transactions cost higher not only for Members but also for their businesses. I believe that this is a very important thing. But sometimes, Members do not notify, not because of lack of political will, but because they do not have the resources and the capacity to deal with notifications. So, we really have to look at it and understand why this is not happening in a Member’s context. And if it is a question of that capacity, we build it. This will contribute to them being able to notify and will in turn strengthen the multilateral trading system and be encouraging to
    businesses. Currently, we are all looking at how to come out of this recession. So, WTO Members need to do all those things that are helpful for this. For instance, when it came to the issue of export restrictions on food and medical supplies, notifications of a certain number of days to Members would have helped because one way that the WTO can contribute to economic recovery and to the multilateral trading system is to make sure that any restrictions on the supplies of medical equipment, vaccines included, and of food are removed. If there are going to be restrictions, those should be notified ahead of time and done in a transparent, proportionate and temporary manner, so that Members who need to get access to these can do so. They are all linked together: transparency, notifications, ability to generate trust that Members are acting according to the WTO Agreements and ability to increase world trade by doing all of these.
    Q: What would you focus upon in your first 100 days as WTO Director-General? (Australia)
    A: In my first 100 days, should I be selected as Director-General, I would be very keen to get off the mark very quickly because there are a lot of things to focus on. Firstly, I would focus on how to deliver a successful MC12. That would be my topmost priority because it is linked to changing the image of the WTO and letting the world know that things can be accomplished. And then I would focus on those areas that are likely to be a win at the negotiations, like the fisheries coming to some conclusion on that. Other areas where we can move along such as agriculture, given its complexity might not lead us to an outcome, but we can advance on those issues. Another issue that I would also be keen to discuss at MC12 would be those linked to COVID-19. We have had a lot of questions on that. What does this mean for world trade? What does this mean for rules? How should we look at this for the future? This is not only going to be the first pandemic. There will be others. MC12 should focus squarely on how we do that and prepare the world the next time to tackle such an issue. I would listen carefully to Members. That is a priority for me. In order to understand what you need to do, you have to listen. What do Members want? And then, based on that, after MC12, I would prioritize renewing the negotiations and updating the rulebook along the lines that I mentioned in my speech, which include those issues for the 21st century that matter so much. I am also
    passionate about issues related to women and trade. I would like to see some movement on that, even if it is just discussions. We should also look at issues on MSMEs because they are the enterprises that create most jobs. I would also be very keen to work on the dispute settlement system. I would work with Members to see what we can do. We had a question from the EU about the two-tier system and how we would restore that. So, that would be a priority. What can we build on? What can get Members to work on this? If we are able to restore the two-tier dispute settlement system, it will send such a sharp signal to the world that the WTO is back and that is what I would like to see. On transparency and notifications, I really think it is important because it is what underlies the multilateral trading system. So, I would like to work on that. I have named three. I can round it up by saying that I would like to see how to strengthen the Secretariat to support the new rules and the way that the world is going to see if it is fit for purpose. That would be very important to me to see also if the Secretariat looks like all its Members, and if not, how do we make it so.
    Q: How do you intend to balance the Director-General’s different roles: the managerial role, the role of negotiation facilitator and the advocacy role? (Latvia)
    A: This is what makes the job of the Director-General of the WTO very interesting because you have to learn how to balance those roles, but you have to play all of them. We have a very good Secretariat with very experienced staff. So, I would hope to be able to lean on them as well to help us see how we can facilitate and move along negotiations looking at areas where Members need more support, including analysis. So, I would depend on some of the resources that I have to some extent, because it is teamwork. I would do that in facilitating negotiations. On the managerial role, I would draw my experience as a Number 2 at the World Bank managing a very big staff. The World Bank has at least 12,000 staff. Since I was a Managing Director in charge of operations in several of the regions with a USD 1 billion portfolio, I would try to apply that experience to help me with the managerial tasks. On advocacy, I will be very keen. The WTO needs to change its image. I will also try to spend quite a bit of time on advocacy by talking about the values of the WTO and its purpose, about what the WTO can bring to the world, about the new ways the WTO is working, about the fact that it is tackling topical issues. I would be very keen to advocate that because this is an organization that matters. During my time at the World Bank, the WTO mattered and still matters. So, advocacy for it would be one of the things I would be keen on. I have been balancing these things in my career most of my life and I think it would be an honour and privilege to try to balance them for the WTO.
  • Q: In different fora for some time now, we have been discussing the reform of the organization, particularly given the challenges of the 21st century and now with the global pandemic. What would be your initial approach to the reform of the organization? How would it take place and how would you implement it? (Guatemala)
    A: On the reform of the organization, there has been lots of discussions among Members from what I can see. When I spoke to Members, practically every Member talked about the need for reform. But what was not so clear was which reforms and their approach to the reforms. There are some differences in views among Members about which reforms and how to approach the reforms. Some Members feel that they may not even be participating in the discussions of these reforms, that they are marginalized. Given that situation, I would want to spend some time to really talk and listen to Members to understand what they believe about these reforms – which reforms they would like to see and how. And then I would try to be proactive in pulling that together to be sure that Members are on the same wavelength about which are the critical reforms and the sequencing of the reforms, because we cannot do everything at once. So, sequencing is important. From where I sit, I would think that there would be one or two that would be critically important to embark on as quickly as possible, and that would mean getting Members’ views on those such as the dispute settlement system, which is where the world comes to have its disputes on trade arbitrated. When I speak to business people, this is one of the things they find so important in the WTO. So, I would be keen to know if all Members consider this as a priority, and then I would set about working with
    Members to see the shape of what the reforms to the dispute settlement system could be and how we would build on some of the issues or the processes, understand the disagreements that some Members have with the way it is functioning at the moment and see if we can build some agreement on how to proceed to reform it and to see that it is implemented. Again, the rulemaking system that I have talked about before is an important reform – making sure that the rulebook of the WTO is updated to reflect the way the world is going be it on e-commerce. In this regard, I would want to make sure that we bridge the digital divide for those Members that do not have that ability. In a nutshell, I will try to put together what I hear from Members on what they understand of reforms. I would then try to organize this in a sequenced fashion, giving priority to the top ones that I think are achievable and those that would also make the WTO looks like it is really producing results. And then I would try to work with the staff to facilitate the implementation of these reforms.
    Q: The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the importance of e-commerce. As you have touched upon on your initial remarks, the WTO has been engaged in the negotiations in a plurilateral way with this subject. As you know, there are some difficult challenges we are facing. What kind of approach and efforts would you like to make for advancing this subject? (Japan)
    A: The issue of e-commerce and the digital economy, as you rightly observed, has been demonstrated by the way the world has gone online during this COVID-19 crisis, be it for the purchase of goods and services, be it for education, among others. This is an area is here to stay in the world and I think will continue to be very important. But in trying to advance the negotiations, I would be very mindful of the concerns of some Members who feel that, in order to participate in discussions on e-commerce and the digital economy, they need to be able to do so. Perhaps this is one reason why some Members are not part of the plurilaterals. So, one way to advance that and make sure that these important negotiations move towards a multilateral track that can involve all Members, that can have MFN characteristics and that can allow Members to join when they can, would be to move it along in a direction that would be more comprehensive by looking at what are these challenges that some Members face and what their hesitations are in order to tackle those.
    There are Members who feel that they are not yet ready to participate, so they are hesitant about the gains they would derive from participating. Attending to those issues with Aid for Trade and technical assistance to get the digital infrastructure to these Members that would be required for their businesses and MSMEs to participate in e-commerce would be critically important. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was in Rwanda and saw e-commerce in action with women in their cooperative who were able to sell 30 tons of coffee and make USD 4 a ton more than they would ordinarily have made, because there was no intermediary. And they did this online. So, this is the shape of the future. It is critically important that for e-commerce, we make sure the infrastructure is there, we make sure there is agreement to update the rules, so that this can become something that every Member can benefit from.
  • Q: As you know, the WTO is a Member-driven organization. You said that you would like to advance negotiations and be a very proactive Director-General. Do you think that proactivity is enough to advance the negotiations and resolve the problems that the WTO is currently facing? Do you have any other particular ideas as Director-General to bring those negotiations forward? (Mongolia)
    A: That is a very critical question. The WTO is a Member-driven organization. It is the Members who decide how to move issues along. The Director-General does not have the direct power to do this and can only succeed through working with Members and helping to build consensus. I have been thinking about it. When you build consensus, that means that every Member is part of it. Every Member will have the incentive to implement it. So, we need to work harder to make sure that that consensus-building takes place. When I say “proactive”, I do not mean that the Director-General takes over. No. I read somewhere that the Director-General is more like a butler who is there to make sure that Members are happy. Even a butler can be proactive. My proactivity relates to the fact that I would work hard with Members to overcome the difficulties that have lain in the way of consensus-building to advance negotiations. And we have talked about some of these before, including the fact that there is lack of trust. The Director-General can be proactive in trying to bridge these lines and help build and restore that trust. This is one way you can help Members to understand each other better, to be the one that runs between and carries the views and messages, to be the one that ensures that the appropriate analysis is done that can move negotiations along and to be the one that supports and bridges the gap. That would be my answer to your question – a proactive supporter to make consensus-building quicker, faster and with more deliverables.
    Q: You have used more than once the expression “update the rulebook”. One of those updates seem to be in the more permanent role of plurilaterals. How do you see that? What space you think they should have in the future reform process of the WTO? (Brazil)
    A: This issue of the nature of negotiations, whether plurilateral or multilateral, is one of the difficult ones among Members. Multilateral negotiations are always preferable because they involve all Members and reduce transaction costs. However, under certain circumstances, if there is a need to move an agenda along, one could look at plurilateral negotiations as a means of doing that. But it would be in the hope that the plurilateral negotiations could move in a direction that would become multilateral, by ensuring Members can join when they are able to do so, and by ensuring there are MFN characteristics to it. That would be the way I would see it. Plurilaterals can help us not be stuck and move along on some important issues, but the objective is always to get to multilateral negotiations, or, if we cannot, to make sure all Members can benefit by being able to join and have the benefits of it when they can.
    Q: In your presentation, you have addressed the issue of special and differential treatment. We know that there are different views on this issue. While some would argue that it is a treaty-embedded right, others view that such flexibilities should be given on a needs basis. How would you use your office as Director-General to reconcile these different interpretations of the S&DT principle and to ensure that some Members are not unduly penalized? (Mauritius)
    A: The question of S&DT is probably one of the most difficult and divisive issues within the WTO. One has to tread with caution. There are three categories of Members within the WTO: developed, developing and LDCs. The 47 LDCs are clearly identified according to the UN criteria. There would not be much debate on S&DT for LDCs to enable them to strengthen their economies and advance. The debate comes when it comes to the category of developing country Members. As Director General, to help move this along, I would work with Members to be very creative. I would look at building on agreements such as the TFA which found a solution where Members can decide how they would implement agreements, the pace at which they can do it and the capacity building and technical assistance that they would need to implement those provisions. A creative solution along those lines might be one way to begin to deal with this difficulty. There are other solutions. I am not saying that it is the only one. But that is the way my mind is working – a solution that allows Members in a creative fashion to deliver their commitments without the issue of categorization.
    Q: As Director-General, what are your plans relating to empowering women in the future WTO agenda? (Malaysia)
    A: Now you have touched on a subject that I am quite passionate about. As part of the WTO agenda, I was very excited when I saw the Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment. As WTO Director-General, I would seek to work with Members to advance those discussions and I would seek to mainstream the issue of women and trade across the work done at the Secretariat. In all the negotiations we do, we should look at whether we are empowering women and whether we are supporting them to participate better. There is the “She Trades” initiative. We should think how we can use that as a means of advancing this objective. This is an agenda that would be exciting to move along and mainstream it in the work of the Secretariat and the negotiations, because women own 50% or more of MSMEs. Helping them to trade more will create more jobs and spur economic growth and sustainable development in our economies.

7. Other materials on Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

In a post from September 1, 2020, I reviewed and summarized comments of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala as reported in various press and other sources. See September 1, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/01/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-nigeria/. The bulk of the post is copied below.

Race for WTO Director-General — additional material on Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)

Today I review some other press articles about the candidates to provide additional perspective on important issues or the candidate’s approach to the position of Director-General if selected. Yesterday, I posted material about Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri. See August 31, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/31/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-dr-jesus-seade-kuri-mexico/.

There is no intention on my part to be exhaustive and the research has been limited to press pieces in English. Rather the intention is to identify information not addressed in my earlier posts that may be of interest to readers.

Today’s post looks at a few articles featuring Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria, the second candidate nominated.

  1. The Australian, August 17, 2020, Should WT address antai-dumping measures?, https://www.theaustralian.com.au/subscribe/news/1/?sourceCode=TAWEB_WRE170_a_GGL&dest=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.theaustralian.com.au%2Fbusiness%2Fleadership%2Fshould-wto-address-antidumping-measures%2Fnews-story%2F995b960b1de450c1d983f4aabeca2351&memtype=anonymous&mode=premium&nk=1fc9f182863545ef2c82ab30edd82766-1598966889

The summary of the article states that “Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says the WTO should investigate whether Australia was inappropriately using anti-dumping provisions to keep out foreign steel.” I am not a subscriber to the Australian and so the information provided above is limited.

2. Nikkei Asian Review, July 13, 2020, 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.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

* * *

Q: How would you go about navigating reforms at the WTO amid a rise of unilateralism and U.S.-China trade clashes?

A: This is the topical question of the hour, the growing nationalism, the divide. But if you listen carefully, you find that there’s some intersecting interests. After all, the same big powers that seem to have a big divide are sitting across each other at the table and negotiating some deals. 

“The WTO should work with all members including the big ones to find out what are those intersecting areas — however small they may be — how do we begin to deliver to make the two sides see their common interests that we can work on and build trust.

“It will take time, it will be challenging, there’s no magic wand to it, but you need someone with the energy, the passion, who is not a quitter, and who can deliver and work with these powers and listen — listen to them, because sometimes they feel they’re not even listening to the big powers.

Q: Could you talk about your visions for reforms?

A: First, updating WTO rules to the 21st century to take account of 21st-century issues, such as e-commerce and the digital economy, such as climate change, the green economy and biodiversity and circular economy … the issue of women and trade and micro-, medium and small enterprise. Even technology, what technology is doing to supply chains.

“Then you’ve got to look at existing rules and see whether they are serving the purpose. There are some members who feel that some rules may be leading to circumvention and disturbing the balance of rights and obligations of members. Issues like special and differentiated treatment, which developing countries feel very strongly about [but] developed countries have a different view.

“The dispute settlement system is paralyzed. You cannot have a rules-based organization, which is the sole place where people can take their grievances and complaints, but rules are not being followed. 

“A third area I would mention is transparency and notification. Transparency is so vital to the multilateral trading system, and notification for businesses. If something is going to be done in a country,  businesses  need to know that you’re willing to take one action or another, otherwise they can’t function.

“The WTO has to start achieving more outcomes. If it doesn’t do that then people continue to see it as irrelevant. 

Q: How should the WTO address Washington’s complaint about China’s state capitalism and developing country designation?

A: Those are some critical issues that members will need to discuss and debate on. But let’s put it this way, we must make sure that all members of the WTO feel that the balance of rights and obligations for all members of the WTO is about a fair system. So, that’s why it’s important to listen to who feels it’s not fair and then restore that balance of rights and obligations that members need to undertake.”

3. Nairametrics, August 12, 2020, WTO Job: Okonjo-Iweala reveals how to resolve rift between US and China, https://nairametrics.com/2020/08/12/wto-job-okonjo-iweala-reveals-how-to-resolve-the-rift-between-us-and-china/.

“On healing the rift between the US and China, Okonjo-Iweala admitted that it is going to be challenging and not be easy. She said:

“‘Well this is not going to be easy, if it was easy, it could have been done a long time since. So it would be very challenging but it is not an impossible job. It is very clear that both the US and China have been helped and benefitted from the multilateral trading system in the past. Hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty. They have experienced shared prosperity in the economies and their countries.’

“The Nigerian candidate pointed out that it is important to remind the US and China of this shared prosperity. She then disclosed that she would listen to both countries to find out what really are the issues causing distrust among them. She said that she will not want to be involved in the larger political problems, but will rather separate the trade issues and focus on them and build this trust.

“Going further on how to settle their rift, Okonjo-Iweala said, ‘You need to begin to find areas where there can be confidence-building and trade. Building trust is not talking about it, you have to have areas where both can work together and agree and we have a golden opportunity in the fisheries subsidies negotiations that are going on now because the US is a party to it, China is a party, the EU, all other members.’

“‘It is a multilateral negotiation, so if they can sit around the table with others to negotiate this and have a successful outcome, that is one thing that will be shared in common between the 2. So that will begin to build confidence. Then reaching out both in the US and in China to talk to the policymakers, go where the decisions are made, talk to congress also in the US and begin to show the benefits of the system again.’

“She also said they will look at reasons why they need to work together because their rift may be causing negative externalities for other members. She is of the opinion that exposing all of these, working with them, and listening carefully will begin to build confidence.

“She believes that while achieving this will be difficult, focusing seriously on trade issues can create room for a breakthrough.”

4. P.M. News, August 4, 2020, Okonjo-Iweala: My priorities as WTO chief, https://www.pmnewsnigeria.com/2020/08/04/okonjo-iweala-my-priorities-as-wto-chief/.

“’I would be focusing, if I get the job, on the dispute settlement system. Because this is the fundamental pillar of the WTO,’ Okonjo-Iweala said.

”If you have a rules-based organisation, you must have a place where rules are arbitrated and that’s what happens with the dispute settlement system. So restoring that will be a top priority as well.’

* * *

“The candidate showed her confidence to ‘find a way to unlock the seeming division’ on the trade side, between China and the United States, underlining that finding areas of mutual interest and to build trust within the WTO trading system would be important.

“’Actually, if you listen to the two members, they have some things in common,’ Okonjo-Iweala added.

“’The dispute settlement system of the WTO is valued by both, they want it to reform, they don’t want it to disappear.’

“Okonjo-Iweala also noted that she hopes China will play the role of an economic growth engine in the current COVID-19 pandemic as it did during the 2008 global financial crisis.

“’I think the best thing China can do is to recover quickly. Because it’s one of the engines of growth in the world and it’s almost a quarter of world trade,’ she told Xinhua.

“’So if it recovers quickly, it means that it can help the rest of the world recover. So that’s the role I would see for China.’”

5. Financial Times, August 4, 2020, Leading WTO candidates back US bid for system reform, Amina Mohamed and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala say American criticisms of over-reach are valid, https://www.ft.com/content/f4830e2b-df7b-474a-8104-6336992ca193.

Article also reviews Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s view that the WTO should be taking a lead on COVID-19 and should take steps to see that the early introduction of export restraints on medical goods and medicines is not repeated.

6. Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, July 22, 2020, Nigeria’s candidate: Technical skill won’t solve WTO problems, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/nigeria%E2%80%99s-candidate-technical-skill-won%E2%80%99t-solve-wto-problems.

Inside U.S. Trade has conducted interviews with each of the eight candidates. In its July 22 write-up of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s interview, the publication noted that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would see who is behind on notifications and see if the problem is due to a lack of technical capability which is a real but solvable problem for many developing countries. For those with the ability to provide notifications but who haven’t, she would see what could be done including some proposals where “sticks” have been suggested to address non-compliance.

On U.S. concerns about China’s state-run economy, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala noted that the WTO doesn’t comment on Member’s economic systems but should address the consequences to the global trading system of different economic systems. She believes the WTO should start by establishing a definition of “public body” and look at improving rules on industrial subsidies and would urge the U.S., EU and Japan to table their proposal in that regard.

Conclusion

The above review of comments made by Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala are taken from various public documents and press articles and conferences or webinars held during the summer and early fall of 2020. The materials used are obviously not exhaustive as Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has appeared at many events that are not covered here. However, the materials provide a glimpse into how the likely next Director-General perceives the path forward on a host of issues important to WTO Members.

The WTO is an important organization facing multiple crises and a challenge to its continuing relevance. Getting a new Director-General is an important step for the organization but much will depend on the willingness of the Members to pull together to make the organization fit for purpose in the 21st century and capable of responding to rapidly evolving global issues. It is unclear that WTO Members are willing to embrace a common vision or make the changes needed to achieve the reforms and updates critical to continued relevance.

The WTO was fortunate to have so many qualified candidates come forward last year. The selection of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is important both for the skills that she brings to the organization and for the signal that it sends on global inclusiveness. Let’s hope that her tenure will be a successful one.

Biden Administration throws support behind Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for next Director-General of the World Trade Organization

The Office of the United States Trade Represenstative released the following press release on February 5, 2021:

“02/05/2021

“Washington, DC – The United States takes note of today’s decision by the Republic of Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee to withdraw her candidacy for Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“The Biden-Harris Administration is pleased to express its strong support for the candidacy of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director General of the WTO.  Dr. Okonjo-Iweala brings a wealth of knowledge in economics and international diplomacy from her 25 years with the World Bank and two terms as Nigerian Finance Minister.  She is widely respected for her effective leadership and has proven experience managing a large international organization with a diverse membership.  

“The Biden-Harris Administration also congratulates Minister Yoo Myung-hee on her strong campaign for this position.  She is a trailblazer as the Republic of Korea’s first female trade minister and the first candidate from Korea to advance this far in the Director General selection process.  The United States respects her decision to withdraw her candidacy from the Director General race to help facilitate a consensus decision at the WTO.

“It is particularly important to underscore that two highly qualified women made it to the final round of consideration for the position of WTO Director General — the first time that any woman has made it to this stage in the history of the institution.  

“The United States stands ready to engage in the next phase of the WTO process for reaching a consensus decision on the WTO Director General.  The Biden-Harris Administration looks forward to working with a new WTO Director General to find paths forward to achieve necessary substantive and procedural reform of the WTO.”

USTR Press Release, Office of the United States Trade Representative Statement on the Director General of the World Trade Organization, February 5, 2021,https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/february/office-united-states-trade-representative-statement-director-general-world-trade-organization.

As reviewed in a post earlier today, the Chair of the WTO’s General Council can call a General Council meeting at any time to consider his recommendation for the next Director-General. See February 5, 2021, WTO Director-General selection process — withdrawal of Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo important step to consensus behind Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/05/wto-director-general-selection-process-withdrawal-of-koreas-trade-minister-yoo-important-step-to-consensus-behind-nigerias-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala/.

The combination of the Korean withdrawal of Minister Yoo from the selection process and the U.S. indication that it supports Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the position of Director-General should permit the process to come to a conclusion in the coming week or weeks based on any remaining consultations the Chair of the General Council perceives are warranted before placing Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s name on the General Council agenda for consideration by the membership. There is a regularly scheduled General Council meeting set for March 1-2, 2021. I would expect that a special session of the General Council could be called as early as next week.

The Biden Administration’s action is consistent with the President’s declared intent to be more active within multilateral institutions and will permit the WTO to move past the selection of the next Director-General to the important issues in front of the organization. Today’s action is an important one to help the WTO look at the major pending issues and the need for major reform.

Letter from variety of former U.S. officials to President Biden urges U.S. support for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as next WTO Director General

With the inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. accomplished, a number of former U.S. officials and others — many with roles in U.S. relations with one or more countries in Africa — wrote President Biden urging him to back Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the Director-General post at the WTO. See All Africa, Africa: Former U.S. Officials Call on Biden to Back WTO Selection for Okonjo-Iweala, 22 January 2021, https://allafrica.com/stories/202101220055.html?utm_campaign=allafrica%3Aeditor&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&utm_content=promote%3Aaans%3Aababae.

The Trump Administration had opposed forming a consensus behind Dr. Okonjo-Iweala despite her having received the largest level of support from WTO Members and, pursuant to the procedures being followed (and that were consistent with procedures adopted by the General Council at the end of 2002) was found to be the candidate most likely to command a consensus. According to para. 19 of the 2002 procedures, “At the end of the final stage of the consultative process, the Chair, with the support of the facilitators, shall submit the name of the candidate most likely to attract consensus and recommend his or her appointment by the General Council.” WT/L/509, para. 19. Korea’s candidate, Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, did not withdraw as required by the procedures. As noted, the United States indicated it could not join a consensus around Dr. Okonjo-Iweala on the basis of the belief that the WTO needed a Director-General with extensive trade expertise and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala did not possess that background. As a result, the Chair of the General Council has not put forward Dr. Okonjo-Iweala to the General Council for a decision, and the WTO remains without a Director-General.

I have reviewed these developments in prior posts. See, e.g., January 19, 2021,   The next Director-General of the WTO – USTR Lighthizer’s comments to the Financial Times, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/19/the-next-director-general-of-the-wto-ustr-lighthizers-comments-to-the-financial-times/; November 19, 2020, The WTO selection process for the next Director-General – possible steps that can be taken in the coming weeks, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/19/the-wto-selection-process-for-the-next-director-general-possible-steps-that-can-be-taken-in-the-coming-weeks/; November 10, 2020, The values of the WTO – do Members and the final Director-General candidates endorse all of them?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/10/the-values-of-the-wto-do-members-and-the-final-director-general-candidates-endorse-all-of-them/; November 6, 2020, Postponement of WTO General Council meeting to consider recommendation of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as next Director-General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/06/postponement-of-wto-general-council-meeting-to-consider-recommendation-of-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-as-next-director-general/; October 29, 2020, WTO press release from informal Heads of Delegation meeting on October 28 and Amb. Walker’s statement to the WTO membership on the outcome of the third round of consultations in the Director-General selection process, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/29/wto-press-release-from-informal-heads-of-delegation-meeting-on-october-28-and-amb-walkers-statement-to-the-wto-membership-on-the-outcome-of-the-third-round-of-consultations-in-the-director-general/; October 29, 2020, October 29th video discussion on WTO Director-General selection process following the announcement of results of third round of consultations and U.S. announcement of not backing the candidate with the greatest support, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/29/october-29th-video-discussion-on-wto-director-general-selection-process-following-the-announcement-of-third-round-of-consultations-and-u-s-aanouncement-of-not-backing-the-candidate-with-the-greatest/; October 29, 2020, U.S. support for Minister Yoo for WTO Director-General premised on need for person with trade expertise, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/29/u-s-support-for-minister-yoo-for-wto-director-general-premised-on-need-for-person-with-trade-expertise/; October 28, 2020:  WTO Director-General selection process doesn’t generate immediate consensus, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/28/wto-director-general-selection-process-doesnt-generate-immediate-consensus/.

The letter sent to President Biden was signed by thirty-seven individuals, many with prior State Department responsibilities (many involving Africa), some from USTR and other government agencies or the White House (some with Africa responsibilities), some from private companies (often working in Africa) or from academia. The list as it appears in the All Africa publication with stated prior and current affiliations is copied below.

The Hon. Mimi Alemayehou
Former Executive Vice President, U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)
Former U.S. Executive Director of the African Development Bank

Ambassador Johnnie Carson
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Affairs
Former U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Uganda

Teresa Clarke
Chairman and CEO, Africa.com

Ambassador Herman J. “Hank” Cohen
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
President & CEO, Cohen and Woods International

Akunna Cook
Former U.S. Foreign Service Officer
Founder and Principal, Drake Road Strategies

John G. Coumantaros
Chairman of Flour Mills of Nigeria
Chairman CEO of Southern Star Shipping Co Inc (New York)
Founding Member of US Nigeria Council

Ambassador Ruth Davis
Former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Benin
Former Director, U.S. Foreign Service Institute
Former Director General, U.S. Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources

The Hon. Vivian Lowery Derryck
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary (EEO and Civil Rights), U.S. Department of State
Founder of the Bridges Institute
Former Assistant Administrator for Africa, USAID

The Hon. Lauri Fitz-Pegado
Former Assistant Secretary
Director General, U.S. Foreign Commercial Service

Melvin Foote
President & CEO, Constituency for Africa

The Hon. Tony Fratto
Former Assistant Secretary, U.S. Treasury
Former White House Deputy Press Secretary
Managing Partner Hamilton Place Strategies

Ambassador Jendayi Frazer
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of African Affairs
Former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa
Former Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director for African Affairs, National Security Council
President & CEO, 50 Ventures LLC

Ambassador Michelle D. Gavin
Former U.S. Ambassador to Botswana
Former Senior Director for Africa, National Security Council

Dr. Gloria Herndon
Former Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Department of State
Chair Corporate Board, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO)
CEO, GB Group

Cameron Hudson
Former Director, African Affairs, National Security Council
Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council Africa Center

Ambassador Makila James (ret.)
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary, East Africa and The Sudans, U.S. Department of State
Former U.S. Ambassador to The Kingdom of Swaziland

Ambassador (ret.) Howard F. Jeter
Former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria and Botswana
Former Special Presidential Envoy to Liberia

Jeffrey Krilla
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State

Florie Liser
Former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa
President and CEO of Corporate Council on Africa (CCA)

Clay Lowery
Former Assistant Secretary, U.S. Treasury
Former Director, International Finance, National Security Council

Ambassador (ret.) Terence P. McCulley
Former U.S. Ambassador to Mali, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire
Chairman, US-Nigeria Council for Food Security, Trade and Investment

Mora McLean
President Emerita, Historian, and Program Strategist, The Africa-America Institute
Former Chair, USTR Trade Advisory Committee on Africa

Cheryl Mills
Former Counselor and Chief of Staff, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of State
Former Deputy Counsel to the President, The White House

Todd Moss, PhD
Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State

Ambassador John Negroponte
First Director, National Intelligence
Former Ambassador to the United Nations
Former Deputy Secretary of State

The Hon. Constance Berry Newman
Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
Chair of the African Renaissance and Diaspora Network

Thomas R. Nides
Former Chief of Staff, Office of the United States Trade Representative
Former Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, U.S. Department of State
Vice Chairman, Morgan Stanley

Bernadette Paolo
Former Staff Director, U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa
Co-founder & Former CEO, The Africa Society

Bobby J. Pittman
Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Finance and Debt, U.S. Department of Treasury
Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director for African Affairs, National Security Council, White House

Pearl Robinson
Associate Professor, Tufts University
Past President, The African Studies Association

Ambassador Robin Renee Sanders
Former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria
Former U.S. Ambassador to ECOWAS
Former U.S. Ambassador to Republic of Congo
Former Africa Director, National Security Council
CEO-FEEEDS

Jeannine B. Scott
Chairman, Constituency for Africa (CFA)
Principal, America to Africa Consulting (A2A)
Former Alternate & Advisor to the U.S. ED at the African Development Bank

Timothy Shortley
Former Director, African Affairs, National Security Council
Chief Operating Officer, 50 Ventures, LLC

Ambassador John Simon
Former Senior Director, National Security Council
Former U.S. Ambassador to the African Union
Managing Partner, Total Impact Capital
Member, USTR Trade Advisory Committee for Africa

The Hon. Gayle Smith
Former Administrator, USAID
Former Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director for African Affairs, National Security Council

Joseph E. Stiglitz
Former member and Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers
University Professor, Columbia University
Chief Economist, Roosevelt Institute
Former Chief Economist of the World Bank
Recipient of Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, 2001

Rosa Whitaker
Former Assistant United States Trade Representative for Africa
President, The Whitaker Group

It is unclear whether the Biden Administration will take trade actions ahead of having the USTR nominee, Katherine Tai, confirmed. In prior posts, I have indicated that I hoped the Biden Administration would quickly alert the WTO to its willingness to join a consensus for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala becoming the next Director-General. While there is little doubt that Minister Yoo has a greater trade background that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, a trade background is not critical to being a successful WTO Director-General. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has very strong credentials and was supported by the vast majority of the membership. If the U.S. indicates it is willing to join the consensus that action will almost certainly result in Korea withdrawing Minister Yoo as a candidate. These two actions would put the WTO membership back on track to abide by the procedures agreed by the General Council and being used in the 2020 Director-General selection process. Most importantly, it would get the WTO a new Director-General. Such a result is a first step in moving the WTO in the right direction going forward. The letter from former U.S. officials and others is the right message for the Biden Administration to receive. Hopefully, the President will act quickly on this particular issue.

Forced labor and child labor — a continued major distortion in international trade for some products

In recent years, the United States has paid more attention to the trade distortions flowing from forced labor and child labor in other countries, particularly in China. While there has been significant progress in the last twenty years in reducing forced labor and child labor globally according to the International Labor Organization (“ILO”), the COVID-19 pandemic has seen some retrenchment and efforts by China to address minorities in country have created an international backlash and concern.

The ILO webpage on forced labor reflects the global nature of the problem. The webpage states in part,

“Although forced labour is universally condemned, ILO estimates show that 24.9 million people around the world are still subjected toit. Of the total number of victims of forced labour, 20.8 million (83 per cent) are exploited in the private economy, by individuals or enterprises, and the remaining 4.1 million (17 per cent) are in State-imposed forms of forced labour. Among those exploited by private individuals or enterprises, 8 million (29 per cent) are victims of forced sexual exploitation and 12 million (64 per cent) of forced labour exploitation. Forced labour in the private economy generates some US$ 150 billion in illegal profits every year: two thirds of the estimated total (or US$ 99 billion) comes from commercial sexual exploitation, while another US$ 51 billion is a result from forced economic exploitation in domestic work, agriculture and other economic activities (Note 1).

“Vestiges of slavery are still found in some parts of Africa, while forced labour in the form of coercive recruitment is present in many countries of Latin America, in certain areas of the Caribbean and in other parts of the world. In numerous countries, domestic workers are trapped in situations of forced labour, and in many cases they are restrained from leaving the employers’ home through threats or violence. Bonded labour persists in South Asia, where millions of men, women and children are tied to their work through a vicious circle of debt. In Europe and North America, a considerable number of women and children are victims of traffickers, who sell them to networks of forced prostitution or clandestine sweat-shops. Finally, forced labour is still used as a punishment for expressing political views.

“For many governments around the world, the elimination of forced labour remains an important challenge in the 21st century. Not only is forced labour a serious violation of a fundamental human right, it is a leading cause of poverty and a hindrance to economic development. ILO standards on forced labour, associated with well-targeted technical assistance, are the main tools at the international level to combat this scourge.”

ILO, International Labour Standards on Forced labour, https://www.ilo.org/global/standards/subjects-covered-by-international-labour-standards/forced-labour/lang–en/index.htm. See also ILO and Walk Free, 2017, Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, Forced Labor and Forced Marriage, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575479.pdf.

Child labor involves more people – an estimated 152 million of which 73 million are involved in hazardous work. See ILO, International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour and Forced Labour (IPEC+), https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/how-the-ilo-works/flagships/ipec-plus/lang–en/index.htm.

While the incidence of forced labor and child labor is declining, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated trends as these populations are most vulnerable. See, e.g., ILO, The International Labour Organization
and the US Department of Labor partnership to eliminate child labour and forced labour, 2019, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed_norm/@ipec/documents/publication/wcms_710971.pdf (“The ILO’s most recent global estimates of child labour indicate, however, that significant progress is
being made. From 2000 to 2016, there was a net reduction of 94 million children in child labour and
the number of children in hazardous work was halved. In parallel, the ILO Worst Forms of Child
Labour Convention (No. 182) was ratified by 186 countries, reaching almost universal ratification.
The challenges ahead, however, remain formidable: in 2016, 152 million girls and boys were in child
labour and 25 million men, women and children were trapped in forced labour.”); ILO, COVID-19 impact on
child labour and forced labour: The response of the IPEC+ Flagship Programme, 2020, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—ipec/documents/publication/wcms_745287.pdf (“COVID-19 has plunged the world into a crisis of unprecedented scope and scale. Undoubtedly, restoring global health remains the first priority, but the strict measures required are resulting in massive economic and social shocks. As lockdown, quarantine, physical distancing and other isolation measures to suppress transmission continue, the global economy has plunged into a recession. The harmful effects of this pandemic will not be distributed equally. They are expected to be most damaging in the poorest countries and in the poorest neighbourhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations, such as
children in child labour and victims of forced labour and human trafficking, particularly women and girls.
These vulnerable groups are more affected by income shocks due to the lack of access to social protection,
including health insurance and unemployment benefits. * * * Experience from previous crisis situations, such as the 2014 Ebola epidemic, has shown that these factors play a particularly strong role in exacerbating the risk to child labour and forced labour.”).

In China, the government’s efforts to “reeducate” minority populations (e.g., Uyghurs from the western region of Xinjiang) has led to allegations of forced labor on a range of products and actions by the United States to restrict certain imports from China from the region. The Washington International Trade Association is holding a virtual webinar on January 27 looking at the challenges in China and the forced labor problem of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the resulting U.S. ban on cotton and tomato products. See WITA, WITA’s Friday Focus on Trade, Vol. 206, January 22, 2021 (containing various articles on the China forced labor issue and referencing the webinar on January 27, WITA Webinar: The U.S. Moves Against Forced Labor in Xinjiang).

The U.S. Department of Labor in September released its 2020 list of products believed to be produced in foreign countries with forced labor or with child labor. See USDOL, 2020 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor, September 2020, https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ILAB/child_labor_reports/tda2019/2020_TVPRA_List_Online_Final.pdf. The report provides the following statement of purpose:

“The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL or the Department) has produced this ninth edition of the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor in accordance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), as amended. The TVPRA requires USDOL’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB or the Bureau) to “develop and make available to the public a list of goods from countries that
[ILAB] has reason to believe are produced by forced labor or child labor in violation of international standards” (TVPRA List or the List; 22 U.S.C. § 7112(b)(2)(C)). It also requires submission of the TVPRA List to the United States Congress not later than December 1, 2014, and every 2 years thereafter (22 U.S.C. § 7112(b)(3)).

“The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2018 expanded ILAB’s mandate to require the TVPRA List to include, ‘to the extent practicable, goods that are produced with inputs that are produced with forced labor or child labor’” (22 U.S.C. 7112(b)(2)(C)).

“The TVPRA directs ILAB ‘to work with persons who are involved in the production of goods on the list … to create a standard set of practices that will reduce the likelihood that such persons will produce goods using [child labor or forced labor],’ and ‘to consult with other departments and agencies of the United States Government to reduce forced and child labor internationally and ensure that products made by forced labor and child labor in violation of international standards are not imported into the United States’ (22 U.S.C. § 7112(b)(2)(D)–(E)).” (pages 1 and 3).

This year’s publication lists 77 countries that have one or more products believed to be produced with child labor, with forced labor or with both child and forced labor. Fourteen countries are listed as having products believed to be produced with forced labor. Thirty-six countries are listed as believed to produce products with child and forced labor. Sixty-four countries produce some products with child labor. The 77 countries are listed below along with whether products are believed produced with child labor, forced labor, or child labor & forced labor.

Afghanistan — child larbor; child labor & forced labor

Angola — child labor & forced labor

Argentina — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Azerbaijan — child labor

Bangladesh – child labor; child labor & forced labor

Belize — child labor

Benin — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Bolivia — child labor; forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Brazil — child labor; forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Burkina Faso — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Burma — child labor; forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Cambodia — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Cameroon — child labor

Central African Republic — child labor

Chad — child labor

China — forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Colombia — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Costa Rica — child labor

Cote d’Ivoire — child labor & forced labor

Democratic Republic of the Congo — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Dominican Republic — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Ecuador — child labor

Egypt — child labor

El Salvador — child labor

Eswatini — child labor

Ethiopia — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Ghana — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Guatemala — child labor

Guinea — child labor

Honduras — child labor

India — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Indonesia — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Iran — child labor

Kazakhstan — child labor & forced labor

Kenya — child labor

Kyrgyz Republic — child labor

Lebanon — child labor

Lesotho — child labor

Liberia — child labor

Madagascar — child labor

Malawi — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Malaysia — forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Mali — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Mauritania — child labor

Mexico — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Mongolia — child labor

Mozambique — child labor

Nepal — child labor & forced labor

Nicaragua — child labor

Niger — child labor; forced labor

Nigeria — child labor; child labor & forced labor

North Korea — forced labor

Pakistan — child labor; forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Panama — child labor

Paraguay — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Peru — child labor; forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Philippines — child labor

Russia — forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Rwanda — child labor

Senegal — child labor

Sierra Leone –child labor; child labor & forced labor

South Sudan — child labor & forced labor

Sudan — child labor

Suriname — child labor

Taiwan — forced labor

Tajikistan — child labor & forced labor

Tanzania — child labor

Thailand — child labor; forced labor; child labor & forced labor

Turkey — child labor

Turkmenistan — child labor & forced labor

Uganda — child labor

Ukraine — child labor

Uzbekistan — forced labor

Venezuela — forced labor

Vietnam — child labor; child labor & forced labor

Yemen — child labor

Zambia — child labor

Zimbabwe — child labor

While the number of products obviously vary by country and category, the report categorized agriculture as having 68 child labor listings and 29 forced labor listings. This compares to manufacturing with 39 child labor and 20 forced labor listings; mining showed 32 child labor and 13 forced labor listings and pornography showed one each.

Looking at specific products for individual countries provides the most information.

As an example, China is shown as having the following products believed to be produced with forced labor — Artificial Flowers, Christmas Decorations, Coal, Fish, Footwear, Garments, Gloves, Hair Products, Nails, Thread/Yarn, and Tomato Products. China is also shown as having the following products believed to be produced with child labor and forced labor — Bricks, Cotton, Electronics, Fireworks, Textiles, and Toys. As a USDOL separate post notes, gloves, hair products, textiles, thread/yarn and tomato products were added in 2020 because of research on the forced labor situation in Xinjiang. See USDOL, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, Against Their Will: The Situation in Xinjiang, Forced Labor in Xinjiang, 2020, https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/against-their-will-the-situation-in-xinjiang. The document is embedded below.

Against-Their-Will_-The-Situation-in-Xinjiang-_-U.S.-Department-of-Labor

Looking at India, products believed to be produced with child labor include the following — Bidis (hand-rolled
cigarettes), Brassware, Cotton, Fireworks, Footwear, Gems, Glass Bangles, Incense (agarbatti), Leather Goods/
Accessories, Locks, Matches, Mica, Silk Fabric, Silk Thread, Soccer Balls, Sugarcane, Thread/Yarn. Products believed produced with child labor & forced labor include the following — Bricks, Carpets, Cottonseed (hybrid), Embellished Textiles, Garments, Rice, Sandstone, Stones.

While the USDOL reports don’t estimate the portion of exports from any country of individual products that are produced with child and/or forced labor, the trade consequences can be significant as such labor is artificially valued creating distortions in competitiveness and resulting trade flows. For example, the list of products for China are either important export products for China or important inputs into exported products. The same would true for India and for many other of the 77 countries on the list.

Conclusion

The U.S. has in place statutory provisions which permit the exclusion from entry into the United states of products produced with forced labor. The Trump Administration did a somewhat better job enforcing U.S. law on imports of products produced with child or forced labor. Much more can be done and should be done domestically.

Similarly, the ILO is working to eliminate forced labor and child labor consistent with UN Sustainable Development Goals. “The objective of the IPEC+ Global Flagship Programme – in line with Target 8.7 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, adopted by the United Nations in 2015 – is to provide ILO leadership in global efforts to eradicate all forms of child labour by 2025 and all forms of contemporary slavery and human trafficking by 2030. It also aims to ensure that all people are protected from – and can protect themselves against – these gross human rights violations.” ILO, IPEC+ Global Flagship Programme Implementation, Towards a world free from child labour and forced labour, page 4, 2020, https://respect.international/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/wcms_633435.pdf.

The WTO could play a role in the fight against forced labor and child labor. Such labor practices distort global trade flows in addition to the challenges created for countries engaged in such practices in terms of poverty and human rights abuses. The WTO could gather information from Members on the volume of production and exports of products produced with child and forced labor both as finished products and as inputs into other products. Such an exercise would facilitate an understanding of the extent of global trade represented by such products and help focus attention on trade actions that could be taken to help Members eliminate such harmful practices. While it is unlikely that Members will agree to such a data gathering undertaking, one is surely needed and would add transparency to a source of an important global issue with trade as well as non-trade dimensions.

The next Director-General of the WTO — USTR Lighthizer’s comments to the Financial Times

In an article in today’s Financial Times, Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, the outgoing U.S. Trade Representative, is reported as panning Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the position of Director-General of the World Trade Organization on the basis that she has no trade experience. Financial Times, Outgoing US trade chief says leading WTO candidate lacks experience, January 19, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/baca66bb-5987-47e1-861d-3375a6f6d01b. The key quotes from Amb. Lighthizer in the article are copied below.

“’We need a person who actually knows trade, not somebody from the World Bank who does
development,’ said Mr Lighthizer, referring to Ms Okonjo-Iweala’s credentials.

“”We need a trade person with real trade experience,’ he added. “’And there are very few areas
where you would say, ‘here’s an organisation in very bad shape, let’s get someone who knows
nothing about its core mission’.’”

An early issue for the Biden Administration in its trade agenda will be whether the U.S. withdraws its refusal to join the consensus to appoint Dr. Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria as the next Director-General. In an earlier post, I have indicated that such an action by the Biden Administration early in its term would be desirable. Without a Director-General, it is hard to imagine the WTO making progress on WTO reform. See, e.g., December 12, 2020, The Incoming Biden Administration and International Trade – Katherine Tai, nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/12/the-incoming-biden-administration-and-international-trade-katherine-tai-nominee-for-u-s-trade-representative/ (“On the World Trade Organization, the Biden Administration will have a potentially full docket but some important issues for early consideration. The first issue where an early action is important is who should be the next Director-General. The Trump Administration has indicated it did not agree to join a consensus on the candidate for the Director-General position who is the candidate with broadest and deepest support, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria. Procedures adopted by the General Council in 2002 for selecting Directors-General was followed this year. The Chair of the General Council indicated he was prepared to recommend Dr. Okonjo to the General Council back in early November but has not done so in light of the U.S. position. Both Dr. Okonjo and Minister Yoo of Korea are well qualified candidates. While the Trump Administration may prefer Minister Yoo, in this writer’s view, either candidate will do an excellent job. U.S. refusal to join a consensus is contrary to procedures the U.S. and others agreed to. Because of the U.S. position and the failure of the Korean candidate to withdraw from the process, the WTO continues to operate without a new Director-General. The incoming Biden Administration should communicate with Korea that it intends to indicate the U.S. will join the consensus and then notify the Chair of the General Council. This can and should be done as quickly as possible by the Biden Administration to permit the WTO to get a new Director-General in place early in 2021.”).

While Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has argued that she has some trade experience, referring to the Nigerian customs service being under her jurisdiction when she was Finance Minister and having had some role apparently in Nigeria’s Trade Facilitation Agreement activities, there is little doubt that her background at the World Bank and in the Nigerian government were largely non-trade in nature. In comparison the Korea Trade Minister’s entire career in government has been in trade. So if deep trade experience is critical to performing the function of Director-General at the WTO, then someone other than Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would have been the logical choice for the membership. With the exception of the U.S. under Trump, Members do not have that concern about the qualifications of the next Director-General.

Indeed, deep trade experience has not been a requirement of former Directors-General nor of former senior trade officials in major countries. Peter Sutherland, who was brought in to complete the Uruguay Round in 1993, was not a trade person but rather had a background in banking and had been a prior EC Commissioner of Competition Policy. See Peter Sutherland, GATT and WTO Director-General, 1993 to 1995, https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/dg_e/ps_e.htm. Other Directors-General of the GATT and WTO had limited trade backgrounds. See, e.g., Supachai Panitchpakdi, WTO Director-General, 2002-2005, https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/dg_e/sp_e.htm. The view that individuals with political, diplomatic and other skills can step into an important trade function is not unique to the WTO. National governments, including the United States, often have trade ministries headed by people with little or no trade background prior to the individual’s appointment. Prior U.S. Trade Representatives Robert Strauss (1977-79), Michael Kantor (1993-96) and Ronald Kirk (2009-2013) would be examples. And at least some former U.S. Trade Representatives don’t view prior trade experience as critical to being an effective Director-General. See WITA, WITA Webinar: Three Former USTRs on the WTO in a Time of Change, 07/16/2020, https://www.wita.org/event-videos/wita-webinar-three-former-ustrs-on-the-wto-in-a-time-of-change (former USTRs Froman and Schwab). Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has political and diplomatic stature and significant career accomplishments that make her an extremely well qualified candidate to be the next Director-General of the WTO regardless of the depth of her trade background.

Thus, while it has obviously been the Trump Administration’s view that a trade background is critical for the next Director-General, it is to be hoped that the incoming Biden Administration will take a different view, permit a consensus to be formed and let the WTO get back to having a Director-General and move towards much needed WTO reform on issues that the Trump Administration ably laid out as critical (dispute settlement, convergence vs. coexistence of different economic systems (and reforms of rules to address distortions flowing from non-market economic systems), role of Special and Differential Treatment, transparency, and addressing of critical issues like e-commerce, fisheries subsidies, etc.

The WTO selection process for the next Director-General — possible steps that can be taken in the coming weeks

According to the Procedures adopted by the General Council at the end of 2002 for appointing Directors-General, the current selection process of a new Director-General should have concluded with a General Council meeting that was called for November 9, 2020 but then postponed. See PROCEDURES FOR THE APPOINTMENT OF DIRECTORS-GENERAL, Adopted by the General Council on 10 December 2002, WT/L/509 (20 January 2003), paragraphs 8, 15-19; November 6, 2020, Postponement of WTO General Council meeting to consider recommendation of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as next Director-General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/06/postponement-of-wto-general-council-meeting-to-consider-recommendation-of-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-as-next-director-general/.

In prior posts, I have reported on the developments in the third and final round of consultations that the troika (Chairs of the General Council, Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body) had with Members between October 19-27 and the informal meetings with Heads of Delegation on October 28. See October 29, 2020, WTO press release from informal Heads of Delegation meeting on October 28 and Amb. Walker’s statement to the WTO membership on the outcome of the third round of consultations in the Director-General selection process, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/29/wto-press-release-from-informal-heads-of-delegation-meeting-on-october-28-and-amb-walkers-statement-to-the-wto-membership-on-the-outcome-of-the-third-round-of-consultations-in-the-director-general/; October 29, 2020, October 29th video discussion on WTO Director-General selection process following the announcement of results of third round of consultations and U.S. announcement of not backing the candidate with the greatest support, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/29/october-29th-video-discussion-on-wto-director-general-selection-process-following-the-announcement-of-third-round-of-consultations-and-u-s-aanouncement-of-not-backing-the-candidate-with-the-greatest/; October 29, 2020, U.S. support for Minister Yoo for WTO Director-General premised on need for person with trade expertise, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/29/u-s-support-for-minister-yoo-for-wto-director-general-premised-on-need-for-person-with-trade-expertise/; October 28, 2020, WTO Director-General selection process doesn’t generate immediate consensus, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/28/wto-director-general-selection-process-doesnt-generate-immediate-consensus/.

There were two strong candidates being considered by Members in the third round of consultations — H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of Korea (Trade Minister) and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria (Chair of GAVI, former Finance Minister of Nigeria, and senior official at the World Bank). As reported by the Chairman of the General Council, Amb. David Walker of New Zealand, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was the candidate found based on the preferences of Members to be most likely to attract consensus of the Members and whose name would be put forward to the General Council in a special meeting as recommended by the troika consistent with the procedures (para. 19).

Because the Republic of Korea did not withdraw the Korean candidate and because the U.S. indicated it could not support a consensus for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, the Chair of the General Council was faced with additional consultations ahead of the planned special General Council meeting that was scheduled for November 9. On November 6, the meeting was postponed for an indefinite period reflecting reimposed restrictions by the Swiss government in light of a second wave of COVID-19 cases in Switzerland, thus permitting the Chair more time to consult and seek a resolution.

We are now 13 days after the postponement was announced. Absent a resolution through consultations, the option exists to move to a vote on who should be the next Director-General. WT/L/509, para. 20. While a possibility, to date at least, there has been no move to shift from a consensus approach to a vote, although that may happen in the coming weeks or months.

Steps that could be taken to help resolve the current situation

  1. Withdrawal of H.E. Yoo Myung-hee as a candidate

Since the procedures were adopted at the end of 2002, all candidates who have been put forward have done so understanding that the procedures envision any candidate who is not moved to the next round or who is not found to be the candidate most likely to attract consensus in the final round will withdraw. WT/L/509, para 18 (“It is understood that the candidate or candidates least likely to attract consensus shall withdraw.”). The withdrawal of candidates not receiving the requisite support was followed by all candidates who didn’t advance in 2005 and in 2013 and in the first two rounds of the 2020 consultation process. So the failure of Korea to withdraw its candidate was surprising and inconsistent with the agreed procedures.

Korea is a strong supporter of the WTO as was recognized by Amb. Walker is his prepared comments at the meeting on October 28 (JOB/GC/247).

” 4 TRIBUTE TO CANDIDATES AND TO MEMBERS

“4.1. Before I conclude, I would like to acknowledge H.E. Yoo Myung-hee for her participation in this selection process.

“4.2. As I said at the start, Members consider her a highly qualified individual. H.E. Yoo Myung-hee has vast experience, which she has acquired in a number of leading positions, and her outstanding
qualifications are highly valued and respected by all Members. In her distinguished career, H.E. Yoo Myung-hee has always been a tireless promoter of the multilateral trading system, and I am certain that the WTO can continue to count on that commitment.

“4.3. We would also like to acknowledge the Government of the Republic of Korea and its Geneva Representative Ambassador PAIK Ji-ah for their commitment to this institution and to the multilateral trading system.”

The government of Korea has indicated that it has not decided a course of action and press accounts suggest that Minister Yoo is still in the fight for the Director-General position. Hopefully, Korea will take the correct action even if belatedly and withdraw its candidate. There is no doubt that Minister Yoo is a qualified individual. But that has been true of many candidates who did not ultimately succeed. The procedures adopted by the General Council obviously don’t work if candidates who do not receive the broadest and largest support don’t withdraw. Korea’s and Minister Yoo’s actions in having Minister Yoo stay in the competition are hurting the organization that both have actively supported. In an organization where Members already have a low level of trust, having important Members disregard procedures all have agreed to simply compounds the challenge of restoring trust and permitting the WTO to get on with the critical work before it.

2. Carry on in the existing configuration until the Biden Administration is in place in late January

While it is unlikely that the incoming Biden Administration will have its full team in place for a number of months after President-elect Biden is sworn in on January 20, my belief is that there will be a reasonably strong likelihood that the new Administration will not prevent a consensus for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be appointed the next Director-General of the WTO. Thus, holding the special General Council meeting sometime in February would likely permit the recommendation identified by Amb. Walker and his two facilitators at the October 28 informal meeting of Heads of Delegation to proceed unopposed. While a February date drastically reduces the time for an incoming Director-General to help Members prepare for the Ministerial to be held in Kazakhstan midyear 2021, many of the priority short term objectives identified by Dr. Okonjo-Iweala (such as completing the fisheries subsidies negotiations and getting the plurilateral on e-commerce to an advanced state) are being worked by existing groups within the WTO and so hopefully will be positioned for early harvest.

Conclusion

The WTO has many needs for reform going forward. There are issues where drawing a line in the sand may be warranted by Members. I believe that the U.S. has correctly drawn a line in the sand on dispute settlement, an issue of concern to Administrations and Congress for more than 20 years. Hopefully reform of the dispute settlement system can happen in 2021 to restore the balance of rights and obligations that sovereign states negotiated during the Uruguay Round and that will limit the role of panels and the Appellate Body to that which was originally envisioned.

While all decisions by Members are obviously for them to make regardless of outside views, as an outside observer I don’t see the justification for drawing a line in the sand in the selection process for a new Director-General. Both candidates in the final round of consultations were highly qualified and respected. The organization needs a new Director-General. The organization will be well served by either candidate. But only one was found through the 2002 procedures to be the candidate most likely to attract a consensus. With a change in U.S. Administrations a few months away, hopefully the 2002 procedures can be respected again without the need to resort to voting and with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala becoming the next Director-General of the WTO.

Postponement of WTO General-Council meeting to consider recommendation of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as next Director-General

On November 6, the Chair of the General Council, Amb. David Walker of New Zealand announced that the special General Council meeting scheduled for Monday November 9 was being postponed with a future date to be determined. The communication to the WTO membership is embedded below.

248

Switzerland has reimposed various restrictions in an effort to deal with a second wave of new cases which topped 10,000 in a single day in early November. See CoVID-19 – the situation in Switzerland, https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/covid-19_coronavirus–the-situation-in-switzerland/45592192. Such restrictions can affect the ability to have in person meetings at the WTO and the willingness of Members to make formal decisions absent in person meetings.

It is also the case that there are external events which are not resolved which could be relevant to the selection process of the next Director-General. One such event is the Presidential election in the United States, where a final resolution is not likely for some time (and certainly not before next Monday).

Similarly, press articles indicate that the Republic of Korea has not resolved internally where it will be on Minister Yoo’s candidacy (withdraw or not withdraw) by the time of the special General Council meeting. See Yonhap News Agency, November 5, 2020, No decision made on S. Korean minister’s WTO chief bid: foreign ministry, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201105010900325.

Thus, a postponement provides Amb. Walker and his two facilitators more time to see whether a consensus can be reached on the candidate who received the largest number of preferences in the third round of consultations (Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) and who was identified by the troika as the candidate most likely to attract consensus.

No specific date has been selected for when the postponed special General Council meeting will occur. It is possible that there will be slippage until 2021.

WTO Press Release from Informal Heads of Delegation Meeting on October 28 and Amb. Walker’s statement to the WTO Membership on the outcome of the third round of consultations in the Director-General selection process

This afternoon, the WTO released a press release on yesterday’s meeting of the Heads of Delegation reviewing the Director-General selection process and the U.S. opposition to the candidate identified as the most likely to attract consensus. Amb. David Walker, the Chair of the General Council, provided a detailed statement during the meeting reviewing the results of the third round of consultations and also announced the date for the next General Council meeting whose sole issue will be the recommendation that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala be appointed the next Director-General of the WTO. How the process will proceed has obviously been complicated by the position of the United States and the failure of the Korean candidate to withdraw as was expected under the procedures being followed in the selection process.

While two prior posts have dealt with the developments and one has provided a discussion organized by WITA, below are the press release and
Amb. Walker’s statement so that readers of the post have both important documents.

WTO-_-2020-News-items-Members-indicate-strong-preference-for-Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala-as-DG-but-US-objects

247

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October 29th Video discussion on WTO Director-General selection process following the announcement of the results of the third round of consultations and U.S. announcement of not backing the candidate with the greatest support

On October 29, the Washington International Trade Association (WITA) put together a short video discussion among Rufus Yerxa (current President of the National Foreign Trade Council, former Deputy Director-General of the WTO among other positions), Wendy Cutler (currently Vice President and Managing Director of the Washington, D.C. office of the Asia Society Policy Institute and former senior negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office) and me, moderated by Ken Levinson (Executive Director of WITA). The discussion dealt with the challenges to the ongoing WTO Director-General selection process from the U.S. announcement and Korea’s failure to withdraw its candidate following the announcement that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria was the candidate most likely to attract consensus based on the third round of consultations (which concluded on October 27). The You Tube link to the discussion is below.

U.S. support for Minister Yoo for WTO Director-General premised on need for person with trade expertise

When the U.S. indicated at the WTO informal meeting of the Heads of Delegation in Geneva on October 28 that it would not join the consensus for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala becoming the next Director-General, the position was based on the U.S. view that in the current situation, the WTO needed a Director-General with trade experience. The Chair of the General Council,
Amb. David Walker (NZ), had reviewed with WTO Members that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala had received the largest amount of support in the third round of consultations. Under the 2002 procedures for appointment of Directors-General adopted by the General Council and being followed in this year’s selection process, Amb. Walker and his facilitators, will be putting Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s name forward at a coming General Council meeting as the recommended choice for Director-General. The U.S. position, if maintained at the General Council meeting would prevent consensus for the Nigerian candidate.

Here is the statement released from the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office yesterday:

“Washington, DC – The Office of the United States Trade Representative issued the following statement today on the selection of the next World Trade Organization Director-General:

“The United States supports the selection of Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee as the next WTO Director-General.  Minister Yoo is a bona fide trade expert who has distinguished herself during a 25-year career as a successful trade negotiator and trade policy maker.  She has all the skills necessary to be an effective leader of the organization.

“This is a very difficult time for the WTO and international trade.  There have been no multilateral tariff negotiations in 25 years, the dispute settlement system has gotten out of control, and too few members fulfill basic transparency obligations.  The WTO is badly in need of major reform.  It must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field.”

Statement from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on the WTO Director-General Selection Process, October 28, 2020, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2020/october/statement-office-us-trade-representative-wto-director-general-selection-process.

Decisions on whether there is or isn’t consensus on the appointment of a particular candidate are not made at an informal heads of delegation meeting. As required by the appointment procedures being followed this year, the WTO Chairman of the General Council has called a General Council meeting for November 9 at 10 a.m. at which point the Members will either appoint Dr. Okonjo-Iweala by consensus or put the appointment process in unchartered waters. The procedures provide for turning to selection by a vote by Members as a last resort.

To date, Minister Yoo has not withdrawn her candidacy, being the first candidate since the 2002 procedures were adopted by the General Council, not to withdraw after a round of consultations in which her candidacy was not announced as advancing. That situation could, of course, change in the coming days.

The Republic of Korea and the U.S. reportedly consulted by phone on Wednesday ahead of the informal heads of delegation meeting in Geneva. Yonhap News Agency, October 28, 2020, Senior diplomats of S. Korea, U.S. hold phone talks on WTO chief selection, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201028006100325. Presumably, the United States and Korea will be discussing the current situation with other Members to see if they can get Members to build consensus around Minister Yoo. See, e.g., Yonhap News Agency, October 28, 2020, S. Korean candidate behind Nigerian rival in global trade-chief race, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201028004651320?section=news.

The troika of the Chairs of the General Council, Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body will also be consulting with Members to see if there is a path to consensus behind the candidate with the broadest support.

It promises to be a challenging time for the WTO over the coming days.

WTO Director-General selection process doesn’t generate immediate consensus

The troika of WTO Chairs (of the General Council, Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body) met with the WTO heads of delegation on October 28 to review the results of the third round of consultations with Members as part of the long process of selecting the next Director-General. The meeting which was scheduled for 3 p.m. Geneva time, started after 3:15 p.m. and resulted in at least temporary challenges.

The two remaining candidates for consideration during the third round were Korea’s Minister for Trade, H.E. Yoo Myung-hee and Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Both are considered highly qualified though with very different backgrounds — trade for Minister Yoo; development economics and finance for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. Both candidates received strong support from their host governments in terms of politic outreach.

Amb. David Walker, the Chair of the General Council, announced that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has emerged from the third round as the candidate most likely to attract consensus among the Members, and it is understood that she received broad support. Press articles have indicated support from WTO Members of the African Union, support from the countries part of the European Union and other support in the Americas and Asia, including China and Japan. Thus, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala may have been the preferred candidate for more than 100 of the 164 WTO Members.

Minister Yoo reportedly had the support of the United States, many countries in Asia and other support from the Americas and elsewhere.

The actual support of each candidate is not released by the WTO as consultations are confidential, though individual governments are, of course, free to identify which candidate they preferred.

Importantly, the Republic of Korea did not withdraw Minister Yoo’s candidacy and the U.S. has indicated it continues to support Minister Yoo, which means that at least for the moment there is not a consensus for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala.

Presumably the troika will continue to consult with Korea and the United States to see if they can get those Members to support the potential consensus behind Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. The procedures adopted by the General Council in late 2002 indicate that the troika should be submitting the name of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala to the General Council recommending her appointment by the General Council:

“At the end of the final stage of the consultative process, the Chair, with the support of the facilitators, shall submit the name of the candidate most likely to attract consensus and recommend his or her appointment by the General Council.”

Procedures for the Appointment of Directors-General, Adopted by the General Council on 10 December 2002, WT/L/509 (20 January 2003), para. 19.

Because of the present positions of Korea and the United States, it is likely that Amb. Walker will delay calling a General Council meeting in the hope of obtaining clearance of the current blockage. At some point, Amb. Walker will presumably call the General Council meeting so Members have to be on the record as opposing consensus. As a last resort, Amb. Walker and his facilitators can have the General Council vote to select the next Director-General. Id, para. 20.

Recourse to voting as a last resort

“20. If, after having carried out all the procedures set out above, it has not been possible for the General Council to take a decision by consensus by the deadline provided for the appointment, Members should consider the possibility of recourse to a vote as a last resort by a procedure to be
determined at that time. Recourse to a vote for the appointment of a Director-General shall be understood to be an exceptional departure from the customary practice of decision-making by consensus, and shall not establish any precedent for such recourse in respect of any future decisions in the WTO.”

The deadline for the appointment under existing procedures, is November 7, 2020. Id, para. 15. It is unclear what the objection is for the United States to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, although press accounts have indicated that the U.S. has concerns about Dr. Okonjo-Iweala based on her work with U.S. officials with significantly different views on trade policy than the current U.S. Administration. It is also not clear why Korea’s candidate would not follow the agreed procedures for appointment of Directors-General and withdraw in light of the preferences expressed to the troika during the third round.

Conclusion

The WTO has been fortunate to have very strong candidates put forward to be considered as the next Director-General. Minister Yoo is highly qualified and had a strong presentation of views and intended approach for leading the WTO forward.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala with her service as Minister of Finance twice for Nigeria and twenty-five years experience at the World Bank, background in development economics, and service as Chair of GAVI brings a wealth of experience at high levels of government and multilateral organizations. She is also a candidate from Africa, a continent that has not to date had a Director-General of the WTO. As stated in the General Council’s procedures for appointing Directors-General,

Representativeness of candidates

“13. In order to ensure that the best possible candidate is selected to head the WTO at any given time, candidatures representing the diversity of Members across all regions shall be invited in the nominations process. Where Members are faced in the final selection with equally meritorious
candidates, they 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.”

There has been a prior WTO Director-General from Asia, which may have been a consideration for some WTO Members in providing their preference for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala instead of Minister Yoo in the third round.

It is obviously unfortunate that a process that has worked smoothly so far in 2020, has developed the current set of challenges from Korea and the U.S. Hopefully, the challenges will be addressed and a consensus reached in the next nine days. The correct outcome at this point is for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala to be the next Director-General, the first female Director-General and the first African Director-General.

If the unexpected holdup in concluding the selection process can be resolved, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will hopefully be up to the daunting task that awaits the next Director-General. Success will depend on the willingness of Members to find common ground and address the need for reform and updating the rule book — clearly a herculean challenge considering the very different views of major Members and different groups of Members. But the WTO needs a leader who can help Members find the path forward, be an honest broker, help Members restore confidence in the organization and ensure trade issues can be effectively addressed within the organization, help ensure engagement by all, and be able to engage with governments at a political level and with other multilateral organizations to achieve meaningful participation by all. The global trading system needs a strong and relevant WTO. Time will tell if Dr. Okonjo-Iweala will be that leader. Let’s hope that the next Director-General will succeed.

WTO Director-General selection — press reports EU, Japan join those supporting Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria

With the third round of consultations concluding on Tuesday, October 27, press reports indicate that Japan will be supporting the Nigerian canadidate and the EU, after extended internal debate, has apparently agreed to support Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria as well. See The Japan Times, October 26, 2020, Japan decides against backing South Korean for WTO chief, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/10/26/business/japan-south-korea-nominee-wto/; Politico, October 26, 2020, EU backs Nigerian candidate for WTO top job, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-backs-nigerian-candidate-for-wto-top-job/.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has received the backing of the WTO Members of the African Union and reportedly several dozen other Members from the Americas and Asia. See, e.g., RTL Today, October 19, 2020, ‘I feel the wind behind my back’: Nigerian WTO candidate, https://today.rtl.lu/news/business-and-tech/a/1596831.html.

Some press article have suggested that China is also likely to support the Nigerian candidate, although there has not been formal confirmation to date and some articles have suggested China may have problems with each of the two remaining candidates. See, e.g., South China Morning Post, October 8, 2020, China faces ‘difficult trade-off’ as WTO leadership race heads into final round, https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3104712/china-faces-difficult-trade-wto-leadership-race-heads-final.

The United States has been reported in the press as supporting Minister Yoo Myung-hee from the Republic of Korea. Bloomberg (article in Swissinfo.com), October 21, 2020, Global Trade-Chief Race Slows as U.S., EU Split on Finalists, https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/bloomberg/global-trade-chief-race-slows-as-u-s—eu-split-on-finalists/46110158.

It is also known that the President of Korea and other senior officials within the Korean government have been actively reaching out to WTO Members to encourage support of Minister Yoo in the third round. See, e.g., Yonhap News Agency, October 20, 2020, Moon requests support from 2 nations for S. Korean candidate’s WTO chief bid, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201020009151320; The Korea Times, October 20, 2020, Government goes all out for Yoo’s WTO election, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201020009151320.

What do the news articles portend?

Assuming the support for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is as broad and deep as is being reported, the Nigerian should be the candidate who is announced by the troika in the WTO (Chairs of the General Council, Dispute Settlement
Body and Trade Policy Review Body) as the candidate most likely to achieve consensus from the membership at an informal heads of delegation. If there is no opposition from a Member or Members suggesting blockage of consensus, the informal heads of delegation meeting could be set for as early as Thursday, October 29, with a General Council meeting to confirm the selection held that afternoon or on the 30th of October. If one or more Members indicates a likelihood of blockage of consensus, it is likely that the informal heads of delegation meeting would not occur on the 29th to give the troika the opportunity to work with those threatening blockage to attempt to achieve consensus. See October 9, 2020:  October 8th video discussion on WTO Director-General selection process following the announcement of two finalists, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/09/october-8th-video-discussion-on-wto-director-general-selection-process-following-the-announcement-of-two-finalists/ (video from WITA; see comments of Amb. Rufus Yerxa, President of the National Foreign Trade Council).

Under the procedures adopted in late 2002 for the selection of a Director-General if there is a failure to achieve consensus, Members could select the Director-General based on a vote. To date, voting has not been required. Hopefully, the same will be true in this selection as well. If so, it appears that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will be the next Director-General of the WTO.

Third Round of Consultations in Selecting new WTO Director-General – eight days to go, political outreach continues at high level

The last WTO Director-General, Roberto Azevedo, departed at the end of August. The existing four Deputy Directors-General are overseeing WTO operations awaiting the outcome of the selection process for a new Director-General. While eight candidates were put forward by early July and had two months to “become known” to WTO Members, the process of winnowing down the candidates started in September and has gone through two rounds where the candidate pool went from eight to five to two. Which brings the WTO to the third and final round of consultations by the troika of Chairs of the General Council, Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body with the WTO Membership to find the one candidate with the broadest support both geographically but also by type of Member (developed, developing, least developed).

The third round started on October 19 and will continue through October 27. While the process is confidential, with each Member meeting individually with the troika and providing the Member’s preference, Members can, of course, release information on the candidate of their preference if they so choose.

The two candidates who remain in contention are Minister Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria. While all eight of the candidates who were put forward in June and July were well qualified, Minister Yoo and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala have received high marks from WTO Members from the very beginning. While Minister Yoo has the advantage in terms of trade background, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has an impressive background as a former finance minister, 25 years at the World Bank and her current role as Chair of GAVI.

The procedures for selecting a new Director-General which were agreed to in late 2002 by the General Council put a primary focus on qualifications as one would assume. However, where there are equally well qualified candidates then geographical diversity is specifically identified as a a relevant criteria. There has never been a Director-General from Africa and there has only been one Director-General from Asia (although there was also a Director-General from the Pacific area outside of Asia). With the UN Sustainable Development Goals including one on gender equality (SDG #5), many Members have also been interesting in seeing a Director-General picked from the women candidates. Since both of the two remaining candidates are women, geographical diversity will likely have an outsized role in the third round .

Both remaining candidates are receiving strong support from their home governments in terms of outreach to foreign leaders seeking support for their candidate. The candidates, of course, are also extremely busy with ongoing outreach.

Thus, Minister Yoo traveled back to Europe last week and had a meeting with the EC Trade Commissioner Dombrovskis on October 13, among other meetings. See https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/cldr_20_1935; Yonhap News Agency, Seoul’s top trade official to visit Europe to drum up support her WTO chief race, October 12, 2020, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201012003300320?section=business/industry;

Similarly, the Korean President Moon Jae-in, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun and the ruling Democratic Party (DP) Chairman Lee Nak-yon are engaged in outreach for Minister Yoo’s candidacy. Korea JoongAng Daily, October 12, 2020, Moon, allies intensify campaign for Yoo Myung-hee to head WTO, https://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/2020/10/12/national/politics/Yoo-Myunghee-WTO-Moon-Jaein/20201012172600409.html. Contacts have been made with heads of state or senior officials in Malaysia, Germany, Brazil, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Japan and the U.S. among others. See The Korea Times, October 20, 2020, Government goes all out for Yoo’s WTO election Government goes all out for Yoo’s WTO election, https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2020/10/120_297887.html. President Moon has also raised the issue of support with new ambassadors to Korea — including the German, Vietnamese, Austrian, Chilean, Pakistani and Omani ambassadors. Yonhap News Agency, October 16, 2020, Moon requests support for S. Korea’s WTO chief bid in meeting with foreign envoys, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201016008600315.

Minister Yoo is reported to be having problems in solidifying support from some major Asian Members — including China and Japan — for reasons at least partially separate from her qualifications and is facing what appears to be block support by African WTO Members for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. Thus, broad outreach in Asia, the Americas and in Europe will be important for Minister Yoo if she is to be the last candidate standing on October 28-29.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is similarly receiving strong support from her government where President Muhammadu Buhari indicated full support by the Nigerian government. See The Tide News Online, Ocotber 14, 2020, Buhari Backs Okonjo-Iweala For WTO Job, http://www.thetidenewsonline.com/2020/10/14/buhari-backs-okonjo-iweala-for-wto-job/. Press accounts report that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has the full backing of the African Union as well as support in both the Americas and Asia. See RTL Today, October 19, 2020, ‘I feel the wind behind my back’: Nigerian WTO candidate, https://today.rtl.lu/news/business-and-tech/a/1596831.html. Many have felt that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is the candidate to beat, and she is certainly helped by the support of the African Union WTO Members but will also need broad support in the other regions of the world to be the one remaining candidate.

With just eight days to go to the conclusion of the third round of consultations, the remaining two candidates and their governments are turning over every stone in their effort to generate the support needed to come out of the third round as the sole candidate left.

While the candidate announced on October 29 as the remaining candidate still has to be put forward to the General Council for consensus adoption as the new Director-General, it seems unlikely at the moment that either candidate, should she emerge as the preference of the WTO membership, would be blocked by a Member from becoming the next Director-General. While such blockage is always a possibility, the 2002 agreed procedures have prevented such blockage and hopefully will result in a clean conclusion this year as well.

It is certain to be an interesting end of October.

WTO remaining candidates for the Director-General position — Questions and Answers from the July 15 and 16 meetings with the General Council

The third round of consultations with WTO Members on which of the two remaining candidates is preferred and hence may be the most likely to obtain consensus to become the next Director-General gets started next Monday, October 19 and ends on October 27.

Both Minister Yoo of Korea and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria are in the process of seeking support from WTO Members and have the full support of their governments which are making calls and sending letters to government officials in many of the WTO Members.

Minister Yoo is back in Europe seeking support in this third round (she and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala both received preferences from the EU in the second round). Press reports indicate that China is believed to be supporting Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, and Japan is understood to have concerns with both candidates. Thus, Minister Yoo is working to bolster support in other regions of the world to supplement what is assumed to be only partial support within Asia.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has received the support from Kenya after Kenya’s candidate did not advance to the third round. It is not clear whether she will receive support from all African Members of the WTO, although Kenya’s action is obviously an imortant positive for her.

So the next eleven days will be an active time as each of the remaining candidates seeks support in the final round of consultations from Members in different geographical areas as well as in different categories (developed, developing and least developed countries).

One source of information about the candidates that hasn’t been available to the public but is now available is the questions and answers provided to the General Council meetings with each candidate on July 15 (Dr. Okonjo-Iweala) and July16 (Minister Yoo). While there were three days of meetings with the General Council to accommodate the eight candidates, the two remaining candidates appeared during the first two days. The Minutes of the Meeting of the General Council, 15-17 July 2020 are contained in WT/GC/M/185 (31 August 2020). The procedures for each candidate were reviewed by the General Council Chairman David Walker (New Zealand).

“Each candidate would be invited to make a brief presentation lasting no more than fifteen minutes. That would be followed by a question-and-answer period of no more than one hour and fifteen minutes. During the last five minutes of the question-and-answer period, each candidate would have the opportunity to make a concluding statement if she or he so wished.” (page 1, para. 1.5).

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s statement, questions asked, answers given and closing statement are in Annex 2 on pages 16-26. Minister Yoo Myung-hee’s statement, questions asked, answers given and closing statement are in Annex 5 on pages 51-60. The statements have previously been reviewed in my posts and are available on the WTO webpage.

Questions are picked randomly from Members who indicated an interest in asking questions. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala received questions during the meeting from nineteen Members with another thirty-nine Members having submitted their names to ask questions of her. Minister Yoo received questions during her meeting from seventeen Members with another forty-four Members having submitted their names to ask questions of her.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s questions came from Afghanistan, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Norway, New Zealand, South Africa, European Union, Paraguay, Estonia, Australia, Latvia, Guatemala, Japan, Mongolia, Brazil, and Malaysia. The questions dealt with a range of issues including the following sample:

  • The negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on developing countries, LDCs and small vulnerable economies (SVEs).
  • How to ensure the benefits of open trade are distributed equitably?
  • What steps will you undertake to ensure a multilateral outcome at the next Ministerial?
  • Role of the Director-General (DG) in addressing lack of trust among Members.
  • Role of the DG in facilitating economic recovery and resilience.
  • What is necessary to restore functioning of a binding, two-step dispute settlement system in the WTO?
  • Do transparency and notification obligations need to be strengthened?
  • Focus in the first 100 days.
  • Your initial approach to the reform of the WTO.
  • What kind of approach and efforts would you like to make to advance the subject of e-commerce?
  • Role of plurilaterals in the WTO.
  • How to deal with the different views on special and differential treatment?
  • What are your plans relating to empowering women in the future WTO agenda?

Minister Yoo’s questions came from Guatemala, Belgium, United States, India, Germany, El Salvador, Chinese Taipei, Sri Lanka, Spain, Qatar, Lithuania, Gabon, Botswana, China, Barbados, Malaysia, and Zimbabwe. The questions dealt with a range of issues including the following sample:

  • Do you have any proposal on how to overcome the current crisis?
  • How do you plan to include measures to respect sustainable trade in an agenda focused on free trade and trade liberalization?
  • In looking at interim arbitration agreement of EU and other countries, is it appropriate for WTO resources to be used for activities that go beyond what is contemplated by the DSU?
  • How to convince Members that the multilateral trading system is still best way forward over bilateral and plurilateral trading arrangements?
  • Is there a gap in the WTO rulebook with regard to level playing field issues such as subsidies, economic action by the State and competition?
  • Do you have a multilateral solution to issues like e-commerce which are being tackled in the Joint Statement Initiatives that would be of interest to a large number of Members?
  • WTO is lagging behind in pursuing the development dimension; what is the path forward?
  • Role of DG re fighting protectionism and unilateral measures.
  • How to strike a balance between public stockholding and food security and the avoidance of unnecessary trade restrictions?
  • What is your view on the Doha Development Agenda?
  • What role the WTO can play to help drive Africa’s integration agenda?
  • What is the most important issue to achieve results?

Both candidates gave extensive answers to the questions posed while avoiding staking out a position on any issue that is highly controversial within the WTO. The answers are worth reading in their entirety. As a result the minutes of the meeting are embedded below.

WTGCM185

Each candidate in their summing up at the end of her meeting with the General Council circled back to their prepared statement. Their short summing up statements are copied below.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (page 26):

“The nature of the questions that I have heard and the nature of the discussions give me hope. Members are clearly interested in a WTO that works, in a WTO that is different from what we have now, in a WTO that shows a different face to the world. I can see it and I can feel it. And if ever I am selected as Director-General, that gives me hope that there is a foundation to work on. Before coming in here, I have spoken to several Members, but I did not really know that. From listening to all of you and fielding your questions, I now know that there is a basis to work on. And I want to thank you for it.

“And I really want to end where I began. Trade is very important for a prosperous and a recovered world in the 21st century. The WTO is at the centre of this. A renewed WTO is a mission that we must all undertake, and we need every Member, regardless of economic size, to participate in this. If we want the world to know who we are as the WTO, we have to commit. Having listened to you, I hear the commitment and I want to thank you sincerely for that.”

Minister Yoo Myung-hee (page 60):

“I spent the past few days meeting with Ambassadors and delegates in Geneva. When I listen to your views, together with the questions today, it seems that there are diverse views and priorities of Members – whether it concerns the negotiations, how to pursue development objectives and special and differential treatment, the plurilaterals or restoring the Appellate Body function. So, how can we, a dynamic group of 164 Members with different social and economic environments, come to an agreement? This brings me back to my original message. We need to rebuild trust in the WTO. How? Amid these divergent and different views of Members, I would share the commitment and hope to restoring and revitalizing the WTO.

“This pandemic has forced us to reflect upon what is needed from the multilateral trading system. Despite the current challenges, I have a firm belief in the multilateral trading system and what we can actually achieve in the future if we put our heads together and also our hearts into it. We are embarking on a new journey towards a new chapter for the WTO. Building on the past twenty-five years, when we embark on the new journey for the next twenty-five years, I am ready to provide a new leadership that will harness all the frustrations but most importantly all the hopes from Members to make the WTO more relevant, resilient and responsive for the next twenty-five years and beyond.”

Conclusion

The process that WTO Members agreed on in 2002 to promote a process for finding a candidate for a new Director-General is cumbersome, time consuming and burdensome for candidates brave enough to put their hat in the ring. To date, the 2002 process has resulted in Members agreeing by consensus on a new Director-General (2005 and 2013). The process in 2020 has worked remarkably smoothly as well despite the deep divisions in the membership and the multiple-pronged crisis facing the organization.

The two finalists bring different backgrounds and skill sets to be considered by Members. Each started strong in the General Council meetings in mid-July as can be seen from their answers to questions posed, and each has continued to impress many Members in the subsequent months. There are political considerations in the selection process of the Director-General (just as in any major leadership position of an international organization). Both candidates are getting active support of their home governments. Fortunately, the membership has two qualified and very interesting candidates to consider. Whoever emerges as the candidate most likely to achieve consensus among the Members will still face the hurdle of whether any Member (or group of Members) will block the consensus. While that seems unlikely at the present time, one never knows.

Whoever becomes the next Director-General will face the daunting challenges of an organization with all three major functions not operating as needed, deep divisions among major players and among major groups. The lack of forward movement and the lack of trust among Members will weigh heavily on the new Director-General with a narrow window before the next Ministerial Conference likely to take place next June. It is remarkable that talented individuals with long histories of accomplishments would be willing to take on the problems the WTO is weighed down with at the present time. Hopefully, the next Director-General will be known in the next three weeks.

The effect of COVID-19 on the operation of WTO dispute settlement panels — Australia and others raise at the September 28 Dispute Settlement Body meeting

While most attention on the WTO’s dispute settlement system has focused on the operation of the Appellate Body, the timeliness of disputes is often driven by the actions of the panel. Under Article 12 of the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU), panels are to render their reports within six months (3 months in urgent matters) and no longer than nine months after the panel is composed. Few if any panels in recent years have remotely come close to meeting a nine month report deadline.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting limitations on in person meetings at the WTO and travel restrictions, the panel process has been further complicated. At the recent Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) meeting of September 28, Australia had put on the agenda the issue of “COVID-19 and dispute settlement”. Agenda item 9 of Proposed Agenda for the 28 September 2020 Dispute Settlement Body meeting, WT/DSB/W/670.

The subsequent press release on the DSB meeting contained the following description of the discussion of Australia’s issue on COVID-19 and dispute settlement.

Statement by Australia on COVID-19 and dispute settlement

“On behalf of 14 members (Australia; Brazil; Canada; Ecuador; Guatemala; Hong Kong, China; Mexico; New Zealand; Norway; Peru; Singapore; Switzerland; Ukraine; and the United Kingdom), Australia made a statement expressing concern about delays in dispute settlement proceedings resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While it is encouraging that DSB meetings have been able to resume at the WTO, ongoing restrictions affecting international travel and immigration place in question the feasibility of physical participation of panelists and capital-based delegates at meetings in Geneva into the future, Australia noted. During 2020, various governments, private sector organizations, and domestic and international adjudicative bodies worldwide have adapted their usual ways of working to continue operating in these difficult conditions; WTO members must ensure the dispute settlement system does the same.

“Australia urged panels to consider, in consultation with parties, flexible, alternative arrangements to ensure dispute proceedings can continue to progress in a timely manner despite the challenge of current restrictions. Australia recalled that Article 12.1 of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU) affords panels discretion in the working procedures they adopt in individual disputes, and that panels, after consulting in parties, may determine alternative arrangements that would best serve the satisfactory settlement of the matters. Some panels have already adjusted their procedures to hold substantive meetings virtually through video conferencing technology; Australia welcomed these developments but, to ensure the equitable operation of the dispute settlement system, WTO members must find solutions to enable all current and future matters to move forward in one way or another.

“Several delegations took the floor to comment. Japan said that while virtual meetings are an option, face to face meetings were preferable, and that each panel should consult with parties on how to proceed in order to strike an appropriate balance between prompt settlement of disputes and protection of due process. India said oral hearings were an intrinsic aspect of due process rights guaranteed by the DSU and that panels cannot truncate these rights without the agreement of the parties in a dispute.

“The United States encouraged each panel to consult with the parties on how to proceed, bearing in mind the views of the parties and the relevant provisions of the DSU. China said it was fundamental to provide certainty in dispute settlement in order to avoid any undue delay; it noted some panels have adopted flexible procedures as a response. The EU said that the discretion of panels is not completely unfettered and that they must ensure the prompt settlement of disputes, a principle that was valid for all disputes. Both South Africa and Nigeria (for the African Group) noted the asymmetrical impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on developing country members.”

WTO Dispute Settlement, 28 September 2020, Panel established to review China’s compliance with farm subsidy ruling, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dsb_28sep20_e.htm.

The fact that Australia and others raised the issue at the DSB is certainly welcome, although the comments of Members at the DSB meeting indicates that there are both an array of problems facing different Members and arguably mixed motives for some in concerns about alternative approaches to in person meetings.

First, panels have regularly used the existence of the pandemic as a justification for a lengthy delay in the likely release of a panel report. See, e.g., India – Additional Duties on Certain Products from the United States, WT/DS585/4 (4 June 2020)(panel composed on 7 January 2020, because of pandemic, report to parties not before the second quarter of 2021); India – Measures Concerning Sugar and Sugarcane, WT/DS579/9; WT/DS580/9; WT/DS581/10 (29 April 2020)(complainants are Guatemala, Australia and Brazil)(panels composed on 28 October 2019, report to the parties not before the second quarter of 2021).

Thus, the issue of delay caused by the pandemic is an important one to address to maintain the timely operation of panels. While many developing countries may have greater challenges in terms of internal infrastructure for alternative means of handling disputes remotely, the claim of due process concerns at least for some Members is suspect particularly if the functioning of administrative and judicial activities in-country are being handled remotely/virtually as is true in many countries. For example, in the United States, arguments at federal courts are handled remotely, including at the highest court in the land. No Member should be allowed to delay panel proceedings on due process grounds where their own administrative and court proceedings are handled remotely during the pandemic. The Secretariat should seek transparency from Members on how their agencies and courts are handling matters during the pandemic.

Certainly, WTO Members should identify challenges they face to being able to engage in remote/virtual hearings if in person events are not possible. Where problems exist, the WTO Secretariat in conjunction with other organizations should look to see what technical assistance can be provided to permit active participation. Similarly, if issues affect the ability of panelists to handle matters remotely, there should be a review of options that may exist to facilitate panelists ability to participate. Again, the Secretariat should seek information from Members on challenges they face in participating in dispute proceedings and should have information on potential panelists on the same types of issues.

While the basic premises that panels should consult with parties is clearly the correct path to follow (contrary to the current practice of many panels and that reviewed in detail about the Appellate Body), there is the question of what happens when there is a difference among the parties as to how to proceed. The good offices of the Director-General can be used to possibly bridge the differences. Delay should only be permitted when the concerns of the party objecting to proceeding cannot be reasonably overcome.

It will be interesting to see if Members press for a prompt resolution to the concerns raised at the last DSB meeting, or if they simply let the problems continue to fester and delay the proper operation of panels.

October 8th Video discussion on WTO Director-General selection process following the announcement of two finalists

On October 8, the Washington International Trade Association (WITA) put together a short video discussion among Rufus Yerxa (current President of the National Foreign Trade Council, former Deputy Director-General of the WTO among other positions), Wendy Cutler (currently Vice President and Managing Director of the Washington, D.C. office of the Asia Society Policy Institute and former senior negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office) and me, moderated by Ken Levinson (Executive Director of WITA). The discussion dealt with the ongoing WTO Director-General selection process, what the results of the second round of consultations with Members suggest is important for the WTO Members in the next Director-General. The You Tube link to the discussion is below.

Informal Heads of Delegation Meeting at WTO confirms Nigerian and Korean candidates advance to third (final) round of consultations in selection of next Director-General

This morning’s 11 a.m. informal heads of delegation meeting in Geneva saw Ambassadors David Walker (New Zealand), Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and Harald Aspelund (Iceland) communicate the results of the second round of consultations with WTO Members to the membership. Pursuant to the procedures adopted in 2002 for the selection of the Director-General, the Chair of the General Council together with the Chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body (the “troika”) consult with each Member of the WTO to receive their preferences in successive rounds of consultations. In the second round, each Member was asked to provide two of five remaining candidates as the Member’s preferences.

As leaked yesterday, the two candidates who advance to the third round of consultations are Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Minister Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea. The selection of these two candidates was based “on the depth and breadth of preferences articulated” by Members to the troika. “The result creates an historic precedent for the WTO in that it assures that the 7th Director-General will become the first woman to lead the organization.”

The WTO press release from today (October 8) from which all quotes are taken, “WTO members narrow field of DG candidates,” can be found here, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgsel_08oct20_e.htm.

“During the DG selection processes of 2005 and 2013, breadth of support was defined as ‘the distribution of preferences across geographic regions and among the categories of members generally recognized in WTO provisions: that is (least developed countries), developing countries and developed countries.’ The Chair said he and his colleagues were guided by the practices established in these General Council proceedings and he further explained that the decisions made clear that ‘breadth of support means the larger membership’.”

The three candidates not advancing are Amb. Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya, Mr. Mohammed Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia and Dr. Liam Fox of the United Kingdom. Amb. Walker (Chair of the General Council) said “On behalf of the entire membership, I would like to express deep gratitude for their participation in this selection process. It was clear that members consider them individuals of outstanding qualifications. I am sure you will all agree with us that in participating in the selection process, the candidates have all made a significant contribution to the standing and image of the WTO.”

The third round of consultations will start October 19 and end on October 27. There will be another informal heads of delegation meeting so that Amb. Walker and his facilitators can present the results of the third round of consultations, probably on Thursday, October 29.

The Chair of the General Council will then call a General Council meeting before November 7 to present their recommendation of the candidate most likely to obtain consensus. If Members agree, that candidate becomes the next Director-General. If there is a lack of consensus, the 2002 procedures provide for the possibility of a vote.

As reviewed in my post yesterday, the two candidates who are advancing have significantly different backgrounds presenting Members with an interesting choice. See October 7, 2020, Nigerian and Korean candidates advance to final round of consultations to become next WTO Director-General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/07/nigerian-and-korean-candidates-advance-to-final-round-of-consultations-to-become-next-wto-director-general/.

While politics obviously has a role in the selection process, both candidates bring high-level government experience and an ability to work with various levels of government officials from many countries. Minister Yoo touted the fact that Korea has gone through significant economic development during her lifetime and so she has seen the needs of her country at various stages of economic development which would help her understand the needs of all WTO Members. She has also engaged in negotiations with many of the major WTO Members, including the U.S. and China. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is a development economist and has expressed an interest in various issues where working with other international organizations would be important to ensure participation by all WTO members in WTO issues (e.g., addressing the digital divide which prevents many developing and least developed countries from engaging on e-commerce; ensuring access by all Members to vaccines and therapeutics to address the COVID-19 pandemic).

While the process of selecting a new Director-General is cumbersome, it was developed after the challenges in 1999 when no consensus was reached on a single candidate to give a greater likelihood of Members reaching a consensus on candidates put forward. The procedures worked in 2005 and in 2013 and appear to be working this year.