Republic of Korea

World COVID-19 pandemic peaks on November 26 and starts to slowly recede

The most recent surge in COVID-19 cases (up from 3.57 million cases over a fourteen day period in early August to over 5 million for fourteen days on October 22 to over 8 million new cases for fourteen days on November 17), seems to have peaked on November 26 with 8,296,264 new cases over fourteen days and has been slowly receding for the last three days, down to 8,142,629 new cases during the period November 16-29. Total cases since the end of December 2019 now stand at 62,271,031 as of November 29 according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) publication “COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of 29 November 2020”.

The World Health Organization puts out a publication that tracks cases and deaths on a weekly basis. COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update (data as of 22 November). While it breaks countries and territories into different configuarations that the ECDC, the publication shows new cases in the period November 16-22 declining 6% in Europe and in South East Asia while increasing 11% in the Americas, 5% in the Eastern Mediterranean, 15% in Africa and 9% in the Western Pacific. Because of the large spike in cases in the September – November period in many parts of the world, deaths in the November 16-22 period increased in all regions — up 10% in Europe, 15% in the Americas, 4% in South-East Asia, 10% in the Eastern Mediterranean, 30% in Africa and 1% in the Western Pacific. The latest report is embedded below.

20201124_Weekly_Epi_Update_15

The graphs in the WHO publication show by region the trajectory of new cases and deaths over time. The chart showing aggregate data show a flattening of total new cases in the last weeks of November while the number of deaths globally are sharply increasing.

The WHO Africa region peaked in the summer and has declined until the last few weeks when there has been some increase in both cases and deaths.

The Americas saw a peak in both new cases and deaths in the July period with some declines in new cases until the second half of September when the current surge started and accelerated in November. Deaths declined until early October before starting to grow again.

The Eastern Mediterranean peaked in May-June for both cases and deaths, declined through August/September and have surged to new heights with continued upward trajectory as of November 22.

The WTO European Region had an early surge of cases and deaths in the March-April period. Deaths receded sharply through August. While new cases have increased since summer, there was a massive increase in the September – end of October period in new cases and rising deaths through November.

The WHO South-East Asia region saw a huge increase in cases and deaths in the May-August period, peaking in early September and declining since then. Much of the data for the region reflect activity in India.

The Western Pacific Region has had several peaks in terms of deaths and in new cases, though the numbers are the lowest of any WHO region. The latest peak in new cases was in early August with some increase in the October-November period. Deaths last peaked in early September and have declined through November.

The United States

Turning back to the ECDC data, the United States continues to have more confirmed cases (13,246,651) than any other nation and more confirmed deaths from COVID-19 (266,063) than any other nation. The United States is also still experiencing a surge in new cases and rising deaths. October 31 was the first day that ECDC data show the U.S. recording 100,000 new cases in a single day. Since November 5, the U.S. has had more than 100,000 new cases every day up to November 29. It is the only country to record one million new cases in a week and the only country to record two million new cases in fourteen days. For the last fourteen days, the U.S. recorded 2,341,760 new cases. The U.S., which accounts for 4.3% of the global population, accounts for 21.27% of all COVID-19 cases that have been reported since December 2019 and accounted for 28.76% of new cases in the last two weeks. The rate of increase remains high for the United States — up 31.67% from the 1,778,530 new cases in the two weeks ending November 15. There are concerns that the number of new cases will continue to increase into the new year based on the high rate of infections in many parts of the country, major potential spreading events around holidays in November (Thanksgiving) and December, and limited compliance with basic requirements for limiting the spread of the virus.

The number of deaths from COVID-19 that the U.S. accounts for has declined from roughly 20% to 18.30% as of November 29. In the last two week, while the U.S. has the largest number of deaths in the two weeks, the percent of total deaths accounted for by the U.S. in the November 16-29 period was 14.65%. However, many cities, communities and even states are at or nearing the limits of the health care capacity with hospitalizations now about 90,000, limits on health care professionals with the surging cases and some challenges on personal protective equipment. Thus, models used by the government projects a continued rise in the number of deaths in the coming months.

While the first vaccine could receive emergency approval for distribution in the U.S. as early as December 10, and the U.S. could have two or three vaccines in distribution in early 2021, the United States will unfortunately likely be a major part of the continued high rate of infections and deaths well into 2021.

Europe

While Europe had faced early challenges in a number of western European countries in February-April and very high death rates in a number of countries, the second wave of cases following the relaxation of restrictions in time for summer vacations accounted for the vast majority of the incrase in new cases during the October and early November time period. In earlier posts, I showed that Europe and the U.S. accounted for nearly all of the increase from 5 million new cases in the two weeks ending October 22 to the more than 8 million new cases in the two weeks ending November 17. See November 17, 2020, New COVID-19 cases over a fourteen day period continue to soar past eight million, up from five million on October 22, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/17/new-covid-19-cases-over-a-fourteen-day-period-continue-to-soar-past-eight-million-up-from-five-million-on-october-22/

While some of the major countries, including France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and others have seen significant reductions in the number of new cases in recent weeks from the extraordinary figures recorded in late October, early November, numbers remain very high for a number of countries including Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania and Luxembourg — all of whom had new cases/100,000 population in the last fourteen days that were higher than the United States.

Because deaths lag new cases by a number of weeks, it is perhaps less surprising that much of Europe had deaths/100,000 population in the last fourteen days that were higher than the United States, most at rates that were two-three times the U.S. rate. The rate for the world in total was 1.82 deaths per 100,000 population for the November 16-29 period. The U.S. was 3.38 times the global average at 6.22 deaths per 100,000 population in that two week period. The following 25 European countries exceeded the U.S. rate: France (11.76 deaths/100,000 population); Italy (16.04); Spain (8.31); United Kingdom (9.40); Armenia (12.81); Austria (13.47); Belgium (18.84); Moldova (6.50); Poland (16.65); Portugal (10.30); Romania (11.50); Serbia (7.11); Switzerland (14.98); Bulgaria (23.69); Croatia (15.92); Czechia (18.74); Greece (11.08); Hungary (16.12); Lithuania (8.12); Luxembourg (13.19); Malta (6.79); Slovenia (19.85); Bosnia and Herzegovina (20.75); Georgia (13.19); and North Macedonia (20.12).

With new restrictions in recent weeks bringing new cases down in a number of European countries, death rates should start to decline as well in the coming weeks. Challenges in terms of superspreader events in Europe include holiday travel and events and winter holidays and sports. Germany has proposed placing restrictions on the ski season to try to minimize increased cases from a sport popular across much of Europe. See DW, 26 November 2020, Coronavirus: Germany seeks EU-wide ban on ski trips, https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-germany-seeks-eu-wide-ban-on-ski-trips/a-55732273.

The EU has contracts with at least six pharmaceutical companies or groups for vaccines if approved. The EU and United Kingdom will start to see vaccine dosages within weeks assuming approval in their jurisdictions.

Other countries

While much of the rest of the world has not seen great increases in the number of cases that is not true for all countries. For example, Iran which had 136,753 new cases in the November 2-15 period showed 186,274 new cases in the November 16-29 period (+36.21%). Jordan, which has a total number of cases of 210,709 since the end of December has recorded 65.54% of that total in the last four weeks (68,698 new cases during November 2-15; 69,404 new cases during November 16-29). Similarly, Morocco which has a total of 349,688 cases since December 2019 has more than 37% recorded in the last four weeks (69,127 during November 2-15; 61,477 during November 16-29).

In the Americas the following countries in addition to the United States have two week totals to November 29 greater than 100,000 new cases: Argentina (108,531); Brazil (441,313); Colombia (108,609). The following countries besides the United States have more than one million cases since late December 2019: Argentina (1,413,362); Brazil (6,290,272); Colombia (1,299,613), Mexico (1,100,683). Eleven other countries have more than 100,000 cases (with Peru having 960,368). Other than the U.S., countries are facing different trend lines, many down, some showing increases (e.g., Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Paraguay).

In Asia, while India continues to see declines in the number of new cases, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Palestine, South Korea, showed increased in the most recent two weeks, some quite large. This is in addition to Iran reviewed previously.

In Africa, South Africa has the most cases and saw an increase from 23,730 new cases during November 2-15 to 35,967 during November 16-29. Morocco was reviewed above. Most other major countries in Africa saw declines in recent weeks.

Conclusion

The world in the first eleven months of 2020 has struggled to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control with several major surge periods. The global number of new cases seems to have plateaued over the last week or so at extraordinarily high levels and the death rates has been climbing after a long period where deaths appeared to be declining. It is likely that the death rate will continue to increase for the rest of 2020.

After a period during the summer and early fall where restrictions in a number of countries were being relaxed, many countries in the norther hemisphere are reimposing various restrictions in an effort to dampen the spread of the coronavirus. While trade has significantly rebounded from the sharp decline in the second quarter of 2020, services trade remains more than 30% off of 2019 levels driven by the complete collapse of international travel and tourism. Many WTO members have put forward communications on actions that could be considered to speed economic recovery. The most recent was the Ottawa Group’s communication about a possible Trade and Health Initiative. See November 27, 2020, The Ottawa Group’s November 23 communication and draft elements of a trade and health initiative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/27/the-ottawa-groups-november-23-communication-and-draft-elements-of-a-trade-and-health-initiative/.

The WTO TRIPS Council has a request for a waiver from most TRIPS obligations for all WTO Members on medical goods and medicines relevant to COVID-19 on which a recommendation is supposed to be forwarded to the General Council by the end of 2020 though it is opposed by a number of major Members with pharmaceutical industries. See November 2, 2020, India and South Africa seek waiver from WTO intellectual property obligations to add COVID-19 – issues presented, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/02/india-and-south-africa-seek-waiver-from-wto-intellectual-property-obligations-to-address-covid-19-issues-presented/.

With vaccines very close to approval in major markets like the United States and the European Union, there will be increased focus on efforts to ensure availability of vaccines and therapeutics and diagnostics globally on equitable and affordable terms. GAVI, CEPI and the WHO have been leading this initiative with the support of many governments and private sector players. Pharmaceutical companies also have global distribution plans being pursued in addition to the above efforts.

So there hopefully is light at the end of the tunnel that the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed on the world. But vaccines without vaccinations won’t solve the pandemic’s grip. So communication and outreach globally will be critical to seeing that available vaccines are properly used. And all peoples need to be able to access the vaccines, some of which will be less available simply because of the infrastructure needs to handle the vaccines.

Trade policy options to minimize trade restrictions coupled with global cooperation and coordination should result in the world being able to rebuild in 2021 and beyond as more and more of the world is vaccinated.

Multilateral efforts to help the poorest countries deal with debt, make available trade finance and other actions continue to be a pressing need. Better plans and preparation for pandemics of the future are clearly needed. Reports suggest that many of the poorest countries have experienced loss of a decade or more of economic advancement during the pandemic. Building back greener and in a sustainable manner is critical for all.

The efforts of developed country governments and others to provide the stimulus domestically to reduce the downward spiral of the individual national economies and the global economy has been critical to limiting the damage at home and abroad. But the assumption of large amounts of debt will also pose significant challenges moving forward because of the greatly heightened national debt/GDP ratios that have developed and may restrict options for individual governments moving forward.

What is certain is that 2020 will be remembered as a year in which a virus inflicted enormous damage to the global health and to the global economy. Collectively, the level of spread has been far greater than should have been possible. Many nations were not prepared. Some, like the United States, exacerbated the problems through a lack of national government planning and messaging. Others like many in Europe, having done a good job of controlling the spread in the early months, made major mistakes as they opened up for summer vacations and didn’t deal with the problems that resulted from the reopening and experienced breathtaking surges which roughly doubled the global daily rate of new cases in five-six weeks and have led to the reimposition of a series of restrictions to try to tame the pandemic a second time. We collectively are better than the results achieved to date. The number of deaths in advanced countries is simply disgraceful.

2021 offers the opportunity for the world to come together and put COVID-19 behind us. Whether we will come to the end of 2021 and feel that this global nightmare is behind us and that there are national and global game plans to rebuild in a greener and more sustainable manner with greater opportunities for all is the question. Hopefully, the answer will be yes.

The Ottawa Group’s November 23 Communication and Draft Elements of a “Trade and Health” Initiative

On Monday, Novemer 23, Canada hosted a virtual meeting of the Ottawa Group on WTO reform. The Group includes Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the European Union, Japan, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland. Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff provided comments and urged the Members to “translate their statements about reforms to global trade rules into formal proposals and concrete requests at the WTO.” WTO, 23 November 2020, DDG Wolff calls on Ottawa Group to table formal reform proposals at WTO, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/igo_23nov20_e.htm. DDG Wolff provided seven options for the consideration of the Ottawa Group on WTO reform, the first four of which used trade and health as one example.

“First, an observation: the game must be in play for key players to conclude that they have to join. If negotiations are not under way, there may be a substantial delay in attracting participation.

“Declarations, such as on trade and health, should be turned into formal proposals as soon as possible and should be embraced by all WTO members.

“And if some Members won’t come along or seek to delay — a joint initiative is a practical way to proceed and could then be launched as a priority. The time of testing should not be so long as to make a response to the pandemic arrive too late to be responsive to the current crisis.

“Second, Members can ask the WTO Secretariat for and receive support for evaluations of aspects of WTO reform. For example, on trade and health, Members can —

“Request the Secretariat to upgrade its COVID-19-related trade monitoring activities to collect and publish the best information available, not relying solely on notifications and verification. (This would be a more comprehensive and in-depth activity than that which takes place at present, which in itself was an upgrade from pre-COVID monitoring.)

“Request the Secretariat to work with the WHO, relevant UN agencies and other stakeholders, to highlight trade issues affecting vaccine production and availability, and to propose ways to eliminate obstacles. (This would go beyond existing activities and result in proposals put to the WTO Member- ship).

“Third, Members can

“Propose that the Director General convene a small, representative, ambassador-level group of Friends of Trade and Health to identify how the trading system has performed during the pandemic and to issue preliminary conclusions and recommendations for useful changes in approach within a short, defined timeline.

“Propose that the WTO Secretariat embark now upon the necessary supporting work without delay.

“Propose that the Director General constitute other ‘Friends’ groups to advance consideration of institutional reform and other issues of current importance, and providing possible solutions, such as with respect to the relationship to current and future WTO Agreements of the Paris Accord on Climate Change, the disciplining of fossil fuel subsidies, addressing border adjustments likely with the adoption of carbon taxes, assessing the impact on markets of subsidies and other state interventions, employing trade to reduce income inequality, making the WTO more effective for economic development within and among Member economies, improving the trading system with respect to women in trade, providing WTO support for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, and more generally strategic foresight.

“G20 Members clearly want to enhance preparedness for future pandemics and other crises. Flexible groups with appropriate balance but able to be nimble and responsive are one way to supplement but not supplant the work of committees and joint statement initiatives (JSIs).

‘Propose that an ad hoc horizontal mechanism be created promptly in the event of crises to address — in real time — trade measures that are of concern. The mechanism, similar to trade policy reviews, but not limited to any single WTO Member’s measures, trade restrictive and trade liberalizing, should be constituted immediately for the current pandemic and economic recovery measures.

“Fourth, Members can

“Propose that the signatories of the Pharmaceutical Agreement providing for duty-free trade be updated (last done in 2010), that major nonsigna- tories join and that essential medical supplies be added to the coverage.

“Propose that the signatories of the Information Technology Agreement review and update its coverage, including adding medical equipment.

“Propose that negotiations on the Environmental Goods Agreement re-start in earnest now, with the addition of services.”

The Ottawa Group agreed to put forward a communication seeking action by WTO Members. Each of Canada and the EU (and likely other members) put out press releases. See, e.g., Government of Canada, November 23, 2020, Minister Ng hosts successful ministerial meeting of the Ottawa Group on WTO reform, https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2020/11/minister-ng-hosts-successful-ministerial-meeting-of-the-ottawa-group-on-wto-reform.html; European Commission, Directorate-General for Trade, 23 November 2020, Ottawa Group proposes a global Trade and Health Initiative, https://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=2215&title=Ottawa-Group-proposes-a-global-Trade-and-Health-Initiative.

The Canadian press release states in part, “As countries face a rise in COVID-19 cases, it is essential that governments minimize disruptions to trade flows in essential medical supplies. Today, members of the Ottawa Group took important steps toward a proposed WTO Trade and Health Initiative, which identifies short-term actions to strenghten supply chains and ensure the free flow of medicines and medical supplies.”

Similarly the European Commission press release stated that –

Today the Ottawa Group, a group of 13 like-minded World Trade Organisation (WTO) partners including the EU, agreed today on an initiative, calling on the WTO members to increase their cooperation and work toward enhanced global rules to facilitate trade in essential medical goods. The agreement took place as an outcome of the Ottawa Group Ministerial meeting, hosted virtually by Minister Mary Ng of Canada.

“The Ottawa Group members called for immediate actions in response to the coronavirus crisis such as exercising a restraint in using any export restrictions, implementing trade-facilitating measures in the area of customs and services, as well as improving transparency.

“They also called for further cooperation amongst members, and between the WTO and other international organisations.

“The group also encourages WTO members to refrain from imposing tariffs on essential medical goods during the crisis. Such actions are intended to strengthen the resilience of supply chains and contribute to an effective response to a public health emergency. They can serve as a basis for future permanent commitments on trade in essential medical goods.

“Commission Executive Vice President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: ‘We are proud to promote this trade and health initiative. It aims to encourage stronger global cooperation at WTO level, by facilitating trade in healthcare products. This is critical in the current global health crisis and will also help us in future. But the Ottawa Group trade and health initiative is just the first step. Going forward, the EU will work to promote resilient global healthcare systems, as well as accessible and affordable healthcare products universally.’

“The communication will now be submitted later this week to the WTO secretariat, before being presented to the WTO General Council for discussion. It will be used to prepare the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO, due to be held in 2021.”

That same day, November 23, the Ottawa Group submitted to the WTO a communication entitled “COVID-19 and beyond: Trade and Health”. WT/GC/223 (24 November 2020). The document is embedded below.

223

The communication is ten paragraphs plus an Annex which is described as “Draft Elements of a ‘Trade and Health’ Initiative”. The communication reviews the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and invites “all WTO Members to start working on a Trade and Health Initiative” referencing the Annex. Paragraph 6 of the communication summarizes the specific actions being proposed.

“6. With this objective in mind, we call on WTO Members to make their utmost efforts to prevent further disruptions in the supply chains of essential medical goods. As set out in the Annex to this Communication, we propose specific actions relating to export restrictions, trade facilitation,
technical regulations, tariffs, transparency and review, and call for the WTO to enhance its cooperation with other relevant international organizations, such as WHO, WCO, OECD as well as G20, given the context of the on-going evaluations of the global response to COVID-19. These proposed actions are not intended to be prescriptive and do not cover the universe of possible
measures that could support trade in essential medical goods. Rather, they reflect emerging best practices and should provide sufficient flexibility to be adapted to differing national circumstances.”

The Ottawa Group is hoping to get the support of all Members on a joint statement early in 2021 on a Trade and Health Initiative which could serve as a starting point for negotiations for new WTO commitments at the 12th Ministerial Conference in the summer of 2021 in Kazakhstan.

On export restrictions, the Annex calls for greater oversight of such restrictions without eliminating them outright.

On customs, services and technical regulations, the Annex calls for Members to share information and experiences on best practices in trade facilitation during a crisis (customs procedures, services (including freight, logistics, distribution and transport)) and on standards and technical requirements looking towards regulatory alignment.

On tariffs, the Annex calls on Members to “make best endeavours to temporarily remove or reduce tariffs on goods that are considered essential to fighting COVID-19 pandemic”.

On transparency and review, the Annex calls on Members to enhance transparency during the pandemic with the aim of identifying supply chain disruptions and avoiding such disruptions.

On the topic of cooperation of the WTO with other organizations, the Annex both encourages the WTO Secretariat to continue it outreach on measures related to COVID-19 and the studies developed by the Secretariat with a focus “on the causes and effects of the disruptions in the supply chains of essential goods and drawing on research of other international organizations.” The WTO Director-General is also encouraged to “intensify cooperation” with other organizations (including the G20) to improve “the analytical capacity of Members to monitor market developments in trade and production of essential medical goods.”

Finally, the Annex asks Members to review the effectiveness of the identified elements at the 12th Ministerial Conference “with a view to adopting possible commitments regarding trade in essential medical goods.”

Conclusion

There have been many communications put forward by different groups of Members at the WTO in the last eight months on actions that would make sense in terms of limiting export restraints on medical goods or avoiding such restraints on agricultural goods, about the need for effective trade facilitation measures to reduce barriers to movement of medical goods, and on other topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ottawa Group’s communication from Monday is an effort to come up with an early possible deliverable that could garner broad WTO Member support. As a result it seeks a joint statement with agreement on the statement for early 2021. The Group also provides five draft proposals for such a joint statement. The proposals don’t eliminate existing flexibility (e.g., export restraints) but try to tighten disciplines via increased transparency. The proposals encourage development of best practices on a range of trade facilitation and regulatory alignment issues. The proposals also encourage what is obviously in most Members self-interest — reducing or eliminating tariffs on medical goods during the pandemic. The proposals also call on Members to do a better job on transparency on measure taken during the pandemic with a focus on identifying disruptions to supply chains and addressing the same in short order. Finally, while the WTO already cooperates with other organizations, the proposals point to specific areas where enhanced cooperation would be helpful.

In an organization where Members have a low level of trust in each other, a joint statement on the need for a Trade and Health Initiative such as proposed by the Ottawa Group is probably all that can be achieved in the short term. Something along the lines outlined in the Annex would indeed be a confidence builder if achieved early in 2021. The ability to review developments at the 12th Ministerial and start negotiations on trade in essential medical goods at that time will also be important if accomplished. The more ambitious options presented by DDG Wolff should be considered but realistically are unlikely to either happen or get started ahead of the 12th Ministerial.

Let’s hope that the WTO membership can come together to support the Ottawa Group proposal. The EC has indicated that the Communication will be taken up at the December General Council meeting. That will be an early opportunity to see if there is likely to broad support for the initiative.

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.

WTO initiatives on trade and the environment — likely to receive a warm welcome under a Biden Administration

The challenges facing the world from climate change are staggering and getting worse. While the Trump Administration withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement, a Biden Administration will have the U.S. rejoin and work with other nations to find solutions to the pressing problems.

Today in Geneva, two initiatives were announced by groups of WTO Members. One addresses trade and environmental sustainability and was presented in a communication from 49 Members. Communication on Trade and Environmental Sustainability, WT/CTE/W/249 (17 November 2020). Neither the U.S., China, India, Brazil nor South Africa are on the communication though most developed countries and other Members are initial sponsors. The communication is embedded below.

W249

The second initiative was the launch of an informal dialogue on plastics pollution and environmentally sustainable plastics trade. Seven Members are launching the informal dialogue. All Members are welcome to participate. The seven Members involved in the launch are Australia, Barbados, Canada, China, Fiji, Jamaica and Morocco. Only Australia, Canada and Fiji are part of both initiatives. The press release from the Secretariat on today’s initiatives included the following discussion of the plastics initiative.

“The dialogue is borne out of the recognition of the need for coordinated action to address the rising environmental, health and economic cost of plastics pollution and the importance of the trade dimension as a solution.

“Proponents aim to circulate their communication soon. * * *

“Ambassador Xiangchen Zhang of China said at the online event that possible subjects for discussion include improving transparency, monitoring trade trends, promoting best practices, strengthening policy coherence, identifying the scope for collective approaches, assessing capacity and technical assistance needs, and cooperating with other international processes and efforts. Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan of Fiji said they hope this informal dialogue will encourage discussion and exploratory work on how the WTO can contribute to efforts to reduce plastics pollution and transition to a circular, more environmentally sustainable plastics trade.”

Deputy Director-General Alan Wm Wolff spoke at today’s event and identified a range of initiatives that have been looked at by the Committee on Trade and Environment, or that could be, that could help move forward both initiatives including resuming talks at eliminating tariffs and non-tariff barriers on environmental goods and services, reforming subsidies on fossil fuels, promoting a global circular economy, addressing the carbon content of traded products and other actions.

The press release and DDG Wolff’s remarks are embedded below.

WTO-_-2020-News-items-New-initiatives-launched-to-intensify-WTO-work-on-trade-and-the-environment

WTO-_-2020-News-items-Speech-DDG-Alan-Wolff-DDG-Wolff-remarks-on-the-Structured-Discussions-on-Trade-and-Environmental-Sustainability

Likely U.S. engagement in a Biden Administration

Because addressing the challenges from climate change are a core priority for the incoming Biden Administration, I would expect that once the new trade team is in place, the U.S. will become involved in both of the initiatives and other activities at the WTO on the importance of finding rules and solutions to pressing trade and environment issues.

The Biden team almost certainly supports most if not all of the items identified in paragraph 1 of the Communication (WT/CTE/W/249), including the importance of multilateral environmental agreements, that there is an urgent need for action on climate change, that trade and environmental objectives and policies should be mutually supportive, that trade and trade policy need to support efforts to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, among others. Similarly, the Biden Administration will presumably strongly support the four areas of activity identified in paragraph 2 of the Communication:

“2. Therefore, express our intention to collaborate, prioritize and advance discussions on trade and environmental sustainability, including by:

“intensifying our work to share experiences and best practices; promote transparency, dialogue and information sharing along the full value chain of products and materials;

“strengthening coherence at the national and international level with a view to identifying areas of common interest and for future work within the WTO, in order for WTO to address more effectively sustainable development issues;

“working in cooperation with relevant international organizations and relevant actors, including the private sector, to identify and support technical assistance and capacity building needs of Members, and in particular least-developed countries (LDCs).

“working on possible actions and deliverables of environmental sustainability in the various areas of the WTO.”

Similarly, I would expect the Biden Administration to have an active interest in working with industry and other governments to address the challenges of plastics pollution, although U.S. interests are likely to be more action oriented than the items teed up by China at today’s announcement.

Conclusion

For years, many Members have fought focusing energies at the WTO on issues involving trade and the environment. With the climate change crisis and consequences being felt around the world, it appears that many or most WTO Members are appreciating the need for the WTO to play its role in addressing sustainable development and the climate change challenge.

With a new U.S. Administration, the U.S. should be a very active participant in moving the WTO and its Members forward.

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership signed on November 15, 2020

On Sunday, November 15, 2020, fifteen countries signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership which will “enter into force for those signatory States that have deposited their instrument of ratification, acceptance, or approval, 60 days after the date on which at least six signatory States which are Member States of ASEAN and three signaotry States other than Members States of ASEAN have deposited their instrument of ratification, acceptance, or approval with the Depositary.” RCEP Article 20.6.2.

The fifteen countries signing the RCEP are the ten ASEAN countries — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — and five others (Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea). India had participated in negotiations but withdrew in late 2019. According to a CNN article, “The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership spans 15 countries and 2.2 billion people, or nearly 30% of the world’s population, according to a joint statement released by the nations on Sunday, when the deal was signed. Their combined GDP totals roughly $26 trillion and they account for nearly 28% of global trade based on 2019 data.” CNN Business, November 16, 2020, China signs huge Asia Pacific trade deal with 14 countries, https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/16/economy/rcep-trade-agreement-intl-hnk/index.html.

The Joint Statement released on the 15th is copied below.

“Joint Leaders’ Statement on The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

“We, the Heads of State/Government of the Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam – Australia, China, Japan, Korea and New Zealand, met virtually on 15 November 2020, on the occasion of the 4th RCEP Summit.

We were pleased to witness the signing of the RCEP Agreement, which comes at a time when the world is confronted with the unprecedented challenge brought about by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic. In light of the adverse impact of the pandemic on our economies, and our people’s livelihood and well-being, the signing of the RCEP Agreement demonstrates our strong commitment to supporting economic recovery, inclusive development, job creation and strengthening regional supply chains as well as our support for an open, inclusive, rules-based trade and investment arrangement. We acknowledge that the RCEP Agreement is critical for our region’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and will play an important role in building the region’s resilience through inclusive and sustainable post-pandemic economic recovery process.”

https://asean.org/joint-leaders-statement-regional-comprehensive-economic-partnership-rcep-2/

The agreement has twenty chapters some of which have annexes:

  1. Initial Provisions and General Definitions
  2. Trade in Goods
  3. Rules of Origin
  4. Customs Procedures and Trade Facilitation
  5. Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures
  6. Standards, Technical Regulations, and Conformity Assessment Procedures
  7. Trade Remedies
  8. Trade in Services
  9. Temporary Movement of Natural Persons
  10. Investment
  11. Intellectual Property
  12. Electronic Commerce
  13. Competition
  14. Small and Medium Enterprises
  15. Economic and Technical Cooperation
  16. Government Procurement
  17. General Provisions and Exceptions
  18. Institutional Provisions
  19. Dispute Settlement
  20. Final Provisions

The full RCEP agreement and country schedules of tariff commitments can be found in English at the webpage for RCEP, https://rcepsec.org/legal-text/ as well as on various individual signatory web pages. See, e.g., the Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, https://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/agreements/not-yet-in-force/rcep/rcep-text-and-associated-documents.

A summary of the agreement from the ASEAN webpage is embedded below. https://asean.org/storage/2020/11/Summary-of-the-RCEP-Agreement.pdf.

Summary-of-the-RCEP-Agreement

From the chapter titles, it is clear that the Agreement does not deal with issues such as labor or environment. While there is a chapter on trade remedies, a review shows no expanded rules on industrial subsidies – a matter of concern for many countries dealing with China. Similarly, under the competition chapter, the only reference (and it is indirect) to state-owned or state-invested enterprises is contained in Article 13.3.5 (“Article 13.3: Appropriate Measures against Anti-Competitive
Activities”). “Each Party shall apply its competition laws and regulations to all entities engaged in commercial activities, regardless of their ownership. Any exclusion or exemption from the application of each Party’s competition laws and regulations, shall be transparent and based on grounds of public policy or public interest.” (Emphasis added).

RCEP Chapter 7, Trade Remedies

While subsequent posts will look at other aspects of the RCEP Agreement, this post looks at Chapter 7, Trade Remedies. For convenience, the chapter is embedded below.

rcep-chapter-7

Safeguard actions

Section A of Chapter 7 deals with RCEP safeguard measures. The RCEP safeguard measure is intended to be available for a transitional period that extends to a period that is eight years after the tariff elimination or reduction on a specific good is scheduled to occur. Relief can be in the form either of stopping tariff reductions or snapping the tariff back to the MFN rate at the lower of the rates applicable at the date of entry into force of the Agreement for the country in question or the MFN rate on the date when the transitional RCEP safeguard measure is put in place. There is a three year limit on relief, with a one year extension in certain circumstances. If relief is for more than a year, the relief provided is to be reduced “at regular intervals”. Relief is not available against imports from a RCEP party whose imports are less than 3% of total imports from the RCEP parties or if the RCEP party is a Least Developed Country. RCEP has three members who are Least Developed Countries (LDCs) according to the UN’s 2020 list – Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Compensation is required and if not agreed to, then the party subject to the RCEP safeguard “may suspend the application of substantially equivalent concessions” on goods from the party applying the safeguard. No compensation is required during the first three years of relief if there has been an absolute increase in imports. No compensation will be requested from an LDC.

RCEP countries preserve their rights under the WTO to pursue global safeguard measures. RCEP parties are not to apply both a RCEP safeguard and a global safeguard to the same good at the same time.

Antidumping and Countervailing Duties

Section B of Chapter 7 deals with antidumping and countervailing duties. While the Section starts by noting that parties “retain their rights and obligations under Article VI of GATT 1994, the AD Agreement, and the SCM Agreement,” the section adds clarity to notice and consultation requirements, timing of notice and information required for verification, maintaining a non-confidential file available to all parties and other matters. The biggest addition to parties rights and obligations is the acceptance of a “Prohibition on Zeroing” in dumping investigations and reviews. Article 7.13.

“When margins of dumping are established, assessed, or reviewed under
Article 2, paragraphs 3 and 5 of Article 9, and Article 11 of the AD Agreement, all individual margins, whether positive or negative, shall be
counted for weighted average-to-weighted average and transaction-to- transaction comparison. Nothing in this Article shall prejudice or affect
a Party’s rights and obligations under the second sentence of subparagraph 4.2 of Article 2 of the AD Agreement in relation to weighted average-to-transaction comparison.”

Considering the centrality of the WTO dispute settlement decisions on “zeroing” to the U.S. position on overreach by the Appellate Body, the actions of the RCEP parties to add the obligation contained in RCEP Art. 7.13 to their approach to antidumping investigations will almost certainly complicate the ability of the WTO to move past the impasse on the Appellate Body.

Conclusion

The RCEP Agreement is an important FTA in the huge number of such agreements entered by countries around the world. There will certainly be advantages for the RCEP countries from the regional trade liberalization and the common rules of origin adopted.

Pretty clearly, the RCEP has not dealt with some of the fundamental challenges to the global trading system from the rise of economic systems that are not premised on market-economy principles. While such issues can be addressed in the WTO going forward, the ability of China to get a large number of trading partners to open their markets without the addressing of the underlying core distortions from the state directed economic system that China employs suggests that the road to meaningful reform has gotten longer with the RCEP Agreement.

Nor have the RCEP countries chosen to include within the RCEP action on issues like the environment which are of growing importance to the ability to have sustainable development. Again while such issues can be addressed in the WTO, they are also being addressed in bilateral and plurilateral agreements by other countries and including some of the RCEP countries. Thus, RCEP is a lost opportunity for leadership by China on issues of great importance to its citizens and those of all RCEP parties.

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.

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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

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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.

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.

Nigerian and Korean Candidates Advance to Final Round of Consultations to Become Next WTO Director-General

The informal Heads of Delegation meeting at which Amb. David Walker (new Zealand),who is the Chairman of the General Council and his facilitators (Chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and of the Trade Policy Review Body), will announce to the WTO membership which two of the five remaining candidates have advanced to the final round of consultations in the search for a new Director-General is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday morning (October 8). However, just as after the first round of consultations, the results have been leaked to the press by one or more Members.

Based on news stories this afternoon, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Minister Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea are the two candidates who will advance to the third and final round of consultations. Minister Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya, Minister Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia and the Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP of the United Kingdom will not advance and are expected to withdraw.

As reviewed in prior posts, Minister Yoo has had active support in her candidacy from the Korean administration and had achieved success in being one of two preferences put forward by a united European Union earlier this week. Minister Yoo’s career has been in trade throughout and she is the first woman Minister for Trade in Korea. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has been finance minister of Nigeria twice, served 25 years at the World Bank rising to the number two position and has had an important position with GAVI in recent years.

There has been much discussion of whether this selection of a Director-General would result in a woman being selected — which appears to now be a certainty — and which would be a first for the WTO. Similarly, African Members have been arguing that the position should go to an African candidate since Africa has never had a Director-General from the continent. Asia has had one Director-General in the WTO previously, but never a Korean. Minister Yoo is the third Korean trade minister to run for the Director-General post in the WTO’s short history.

It is unclear if WTO Members from Africa put forward their preferences in a uniform manner to support both African candidates who were part of the round two consultations. Some press articles have suggested that other candidates received at least some support from individual African Members. It is known that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and Minister Mohamed had support from different groups of African countries — ECOWAS and EAC respectively.

The third round of consultations will have WTO Members looking at very different candidates in terms of backgrounds and perceived strengths. Minister Yoo’s background is entirely in trade and she is from an important trading nation and has negotiating history with many of the major WTO Members. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is highly regarded, has limited trade experience (as Minister of Finance she had responsibility for Nigeria’s customs service), has deep experience in development economics and with efforts to respond to the needs of developing and least developed countries in terms of access to medical goods, including vaccines and therapeutics. While Nigeria is a large country, it is a significantly smaller trading nation than Korea. Korea is the 7th largest exporter of goods in 2019 ($542 billion) and 9th largest importer while Nigeria was 48th largest exporter ($62 billion) and was not in the top 50 importers.

Both remaining candidates are very talented and would make an interesting choice for the next Director-General. Block voting by the EU certainly was a help to Minister Yoo in her quest to advance to the third round. It will be interesting to see if the EU, the African Members or other groups vote in blocks in the third round.

The three candidates who will not move to the third round were also all very talented individuals who would have brought different skills and perspectives to the job if they had ultimately been selected.

We will learn tomorrow the timing of the third round of consultations.

Selection of WTO Director-General — Second Round of Consultations Ends Today, October 6

October 6 marks the last day of the second round of consultations by the Chairman of the General Counsel and his facilitators (Chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body) with the WTO Members. Each WTO Member has been providing the troika of Chairs with the names of two of the five remaining candidates that constitute the Member’s preference in the second round. While the date of the Heads of Delegation meeting has not yet been announced, it will likely be Thursday morning. At that time, the two candidates advancing to the final third round of consultations will be identified.

In a prior post, I had noted press articles that indicated EU members were looking to back the candidacies of the Nigerian and Korean candidates — Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Minister Yoo Myung-hee. An article from Bloomberg yesterday confirmed that at yesterday’s meeting in Brussels, EU countries had agreed to back the two candidates. See Blomberg, October 5, 2020, EU Throws Its Weight Behind Nigerian, Korean WTO-Head Contenders, https://eur04.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bloomberg.com%2Fnews%2Farticles%2F2020-10-05%2Feu-throws-its-weight-behind-nigerian-korean-wto-head-contenders&data=02%7C01%7C%7Cc25bd1089e95463bd6e108d8699846db%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637375450027528387&sdata=Lbn5YOaH6ZIm9m4b1ES91psH6rUAMz2PyfO7GomVre8%3D&reserved=0.

Hungary, which had earlier indicated it would back Minister Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya and Dr. Liam Fox of the United Kingdom, reportedly agreed to join with the other EU members. Thus, the EU is understood to have expressed preferences as a block for the Nigerian and Korean candidates.

While Africa has two candidates among the five in the second round, African nations are split on support. The six members of the East Africa Community support Kenya’s Minister Amina Mohamed while countries in west Africa (Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)) support Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

It is unclear if African Members of the WTO will list their two preferences as Okonjo-Iweala and Mohamed or will split their preferences by including one of the three other candidates along with one of the African candidates. With the EU 27 supporting the Korean candidate, lack of solidarity in Africa for its two candidates would increase the challenges for Minister Mohamed to be one of the two finalists making the third round of consultations.

There are, of course, large numbers of WTO Mrmbers in the Americas and in Asia and the Pacific, and there are European countries besides the EU’s 27. It has been assumed that each of the five remaining candidates would garner some support in each of these other areas. Block voting can deny some candidates geographical coverage in some parts of the world which can be a factor the troika consider in reducing the field from five to two.

it is nail biting time for the candidates.

An environmental read on the five candidates for the WTO Director-General slot

A British-based press publication on climate change released a story today looking at the position on climate change of the five candidates being considered in the second round of consultations at the WTO to become the next WTO Director-General. The publication, Climate House News says this about themselves, “Climate Home News is an independent news site specialising in the international politics of the climate crisis. Our London-based editorial team coordinates deep reporting from around the world on the political, economic, social and natural impacts of climate change. Our coverage of UN climate talks is essential reading.”

Today’s article can be found here: Climate Home News, 29 September 2020, African green reformer tipped to win UN trade leadership race, https://www.climatechangenews.com/2020/09/29/african-green-reformer-tipped-win-un-trade-leadership-race/.

While crediting H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea and the Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP of the United Kingdom for speaking out on the need for fisheries subsidies reform, the article singles out H.E. Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria as the two candidates who appear committed to raise the profile of climate change within the WTO if selected as the Director-General. The fifth candidate, H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia, was noted as having made no statements on climate change.

“Both women used their written candidate statements to call for environmental reform of the WTO’s trade rules, while their three opponents from Korea, the UK and Saudi Arabia, have said little about climate change.”

“Mohamed, who has held cabinet roles including foreign affairs in the Kenyan government since 2013, said the economic recovery must ‘take account’ of issues like climate change. The WTO should be reformed to ‘support our shared environmental objectives’ and encourage diffusion of clean technologies, she said.”

“Okonjo-Iweala, former finance minister for Nigeria, said that ‘the WTO appears paralysed at a time when its rule book would greatly benefit from an update to 21st century issues such as ecommerce and the digital economy, the green and circular economies’. She said she wants to reach ‘optimal complementarity between trade and the environment’.”

The article spends a fair amount of space on carbon pricing as an important initiative and notes Minister Mohamed’s comments that “the WTO could replicate carbon pricing initiatives like the EU’s ‘on a grander scale.”

Whether increasing the role of the WTO in addressing climate change is an issue of concern to many WTO Members, it certainly is to some and should be to many. Because trade and the environment is not a prominent area of ongoing WTO negotiations (other than fisheries subsidies), it is not surprising that all of the candidates seeking the Director-General position have not spoken extensively on the issue. Thus, one cannot necessarily draw the conclusions that the article suggests about three of the candidates. Being a member-driven organization, a candidate to become the next Director-General can not be faulted for focusing on the issues of stated concern by Members. Under the current WTO structure, it is not clear what influence a Director-General can have on subjects that Members will focus on.

Nonetheless, ensuring sustainable development (including how trade can help achieve global needs to address climate change) is important to businesses, workers, consumers, NGOs, and the global population. It can and should be a factor that Members of the WTO consider in who gets selected as the next Director-General — i.e., commitment to sustainable development and passion for making trade a positive contributor to solving climate change. More importantly, it must be a factor that Members consider in deciding on areas of negotiation and reform of the WTO in the months ahead.

Korean Trade Minister Travels to Europe to push her WTO candidacy; Moldovan candidate endorses Kenyan candidate

In a prior post, I had reviewed that the EU had backed all three women candidates in the first round of consultations at the WTO on who should be the next Director-General — H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of Korea; H.E. Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya; Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria — but had not backed either of the two men who advanced. See September 24, 2020, WTO Director-General selection – block voting likely to ensure next Director-General is a female, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/24/wto-director-general-selection-block-voting-likely-to-ensure-next-director-general-is-a-female/. All three women moved onto the second round of consultations along with H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia and The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP of the United Kingdom.

With the other two women candidates likely to secure most or all of the second round votes from African WTO Members, it is obviously important for Minister Yoo to continue to receive support from at least some portion of European Members as well as geographical support from Asia and the Pacific and the Americas. With Africa and the Middle East having their own candidates, it is presumably her hope to also secure some support from those areas as well. While it is understood that the EU presented their preferences in the first round of consultations on a consolidated basis, that may not be the case in the second round where at least one EU member (Hungary) has indicated they will vote independent of the EU preferences. Thus, it is not surprising that Minister Yoo and the Korean government are putting focus this week on European Members of the WTO and other missions in Geneva As reviewed in the Korea Times, “‘Minister Yoo is visiting Geneva and Sweden from Sept. 27 until Oct. 2 to seek support of WTO member states with regard to the election of the next WTO director-general,’ the ministry said in a statement, Sept. 25.” The Korea Times, September 27, 2020, Trade minister Yoo Myung-hee kicks off Europe campaign for WTO race, https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2020/09/113_296737.html.

The other piece of news reported today relevant to the WTO Director-General campaign is the endorsement of the Kenyan candidate, H.E. Amina C. Mohamed, by one of the three candidates who did not advance at the end of the first round of consultations, Moldova’s Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi. The Standard, September 27, 2020, Moldovan Candidate Tudor Ulianovschi endorses Amina Mohamed for top WTO job, https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/branding-voice/article/2001387896/tudor-ulianovschi-endorses-amina-mohamed-for-top-wto-job. “He announced on twitter, ‘For the final round of @wto DG selection, two candidates will compete against each other to the benefit of the multilateral trade system. I am pleased to support my friend @AMB_A_Mohammed for the role of DG @wto. We have a similar experience (Ambassador&Minister), diplomacy, and character.'”

The second round of consultations with WTO Members to decide which two of the remaining five candidates will advance to the third round of consultations started on September 24 and will end on October 6. All five candidates and their governments are engaged in shoring up support for their candidacy, with the identification of the two remaining candidates likely to be announced on October 7 or 8.

The third round of consultations, when the candidate viewed as most likely to achieve consensus among the WTO Members, will get started later in October with a hoped for selection of the next Director-General completed by November 7.. Should there be a lack of consensus for the candidate emerging from the third round of consultations, the procedures for selecting Directors-General agreed to at the end of 2002 permits resort to voting if consensus cannot be achieved.

Additional Materials on Three of the Remaining Five Candidates for WTO Director-General post

While WTO Members are engaged in the second round of consultations with the Chairman of the General Council and his facilitators on which two of the remaining five candidates receive each Member’s preference, the candidates continue to reach out to Members and make media contacts. The second round of consultations started on September 24 and will continue until October 6 with a Heads of Delegation meeting likely held one or two days later to announce the two finalists and the timing of the third round of consultations.

The links below are for selected articles or news clips for three of the five remaining candidate and include news interviews.

The Bloomberg piece for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala in not directly WTO related though the WTO Director-General selection process is mentioned. The interview is a joint discussion with Australia’s former Prime Minister Julia Gillard looking at the opportunities for women in leadership in times of crisis.

In Bloomberg’s interview of Minister Yoo, Minister Yoo goes through a number of challenges facing the WTO and answers questions on U.S.-China tensions and responds to a question on whether Japan will oppose her nomination.

Dr. Fox’s interview with the Global Trade Review addresses his interest in the Director-General position, responds to a question about whether his candidacy is serious and answers a question on the relevance of Brexit. His interview with CNBC Africa was wide ranging and he stressed the need for a recommitment by Members to a common enterprise, the need to get the dispute settlement system functioning again. Dr. Fox talked about the needs for Micro-, Small and Medium businesses for all Members, and reviewed the actions he would take to improve the focus on these commercial operators. He also talked about the need for verification of information notified by parties, citing subsidy notifications. He discussed the need to obtain greater liberalization in trade in services and spent some time on e-commerce/digital trade and reviewed how online trade can be helpful to better integrating women into trade. He also talked about the regional trade agreement among African countries and the use of plurilaterals where multilaterals are not presently doable.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria):

Bloomberg, Australia’s Gillard, Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala on Women in Leadership, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2020-09-24/gillard-okonjo-iweala-on-women-in-leadership-video.

H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea):

Bloomberg, Korean Minister Vows to Revitalize WTO if Elected as Chief, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2020-09-25/korean-minister-vows-to-revitalize-wto-if-elected-as-chief-video.

The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP (United Kingdom):

Global Trade Review, September 24, Exclusive interview: Liam Fox talks WTO bid, calls his backing of Brexit a ‘red herring’, https://www.gtreview.com/news/global/exclusive-interview-liam-fox-talks-wto-bid-calls-his-backing-for-brexit-a-red-herring/.

CNBC Africa, September 25, 2020, UK’s Liam Fox Shares His Vision for Global Trade, https://www.cnbcafrica.com/videos/2020/09/25/in-conversation-with-liam-fox-on-his-vision-for-global-trade/.