TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jul20/08)
10 July 2020
Third World Network

COVID-19: Selection process for WTO DG post risks becoming opaque
Published in SUNS #9156 dated 9 July 2020

Geneva, 8 Jul (D. Ravi Kanth) – The selection process for the post of WTO Director-General to replace the current incumbent Roberto Azevedo could turn out to be opaque due to the growing Covid-19-related restrictions being placed on the number of delegates attending meetings with the candidates, said people familiar with the arrangements.

The growing technical glitches as witnessed during the recent virtual meetings at the WTO, and the digital divide among developing countries that would make remote accessibility difficult for these countries to assess the candidates, could pose serious problems, a person said.

As the nominations close on 8 July, there are currently seven candidates in the race for the post of WTO DG.

The latest entrants in the race include Ambassador Amina Mohamed from Kenya, who filed her nomination papers on 7 July, and Mr Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri, Saudi Arabia’s economy and planning minister, who is expected to file his papers on 8 July.

At the time of writing, with the joining of these two candidates, the slate now contains seven candidates.

They include Mr Jesus Seade Kuri, Mexico’s current Under-Secretary for North America; Mr Abdulhameed Mamdouh from Egypt, a former WTO official; Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s former finance minister and current chair of the Board of GAVI (the global alliance for vaccines); Ambassador Tudor Ulianovschi, the former foreign minister of Moldova; Ms Yoo Myung-hee, South Korea’s current trade minister; Ambassador Amina Mohamed from Kenya; and Mr Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri from Saudi Arabia.

According to a Reuters news report on 8 July, Britain is expected to nominate its former trade secretary Mr Liam Fox to run along with the above seven candidates.

Meanwhile, Spain’s foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez said on 8 July that she “will not run for the role of director general of the World Trade Organization because she wants to stay part of the Spanish government,” according to a statement from Madrid.

“I am not aware of any candidacy submitted in my name,” Gonzalez said at a breakfast meeting on 8 July.

“I am committed with my country, with the direction of the EU’s foreign affairs policy and with my country’s development policy, that is where I’m placing my enthusiasm,” she added.

It remains to be seen whether the European Union will also nominate a candidate on 8 July, the last day for the nominations.

By the evening of 8 July, the WTO’s General Council (GC) chair, Ambassador David Walker from New Zealand, is expected to inform members of the full list of candidates in the race.

According to the fresh guidelines issued by Ambassador Walker on 3 July, “candidates shall be invited to meet with members at a formal GC meeting at which they will be invited to make a brief presentation, including their vision for the WTO, to be followed by a question-and-answer period.”

“For this purpose,” according to Ambassador Walker, “following the close of the nomination period on 8 July for the post of the next director-general, a meeting of the General Council will be held on 15 July 2020 and will continue on Thursday 16 July and on Friday 17 July as necessary.”

The GC meeting “will take place in-person, in the council room at the Centre William Rappard, and remotely. For the health protection of delegates and to respect the social distancing measures in place, only one person per delegation will be able to attend the meeting in person in the council room.”

Further, “delegates will be able to attend the meeting remotely through a platform available on the WTO website. Delegations may also choose to only attend the meeting remotely if they so wish.”

According to the GC chair, “each candidate will be invited to make a brief presentation lasting no more than 15 minutes and this will be followed by a question-and-answer period of not more than an hour and fifteen minutes. During the last five minutes of the Question-and-Answer period, candidates will have the opportunity to make a concluding statement if they so wish.”

While these procedures stated by the GC chair demonstrate the commitment to transparency, the GC chair has not yet explained how the candidates will be judged in the closed-door meetings between each WTO member and the triumvirate of the selection committee that includes the GC chair, the chair of the Dispute Settlement Body, and the chair of the Trade Policy Review Body, said a person familiar with the selection process.

“The selection process is mired in secrecy and opacity as the criteria adopted for judging each candidate and the evaluation of preferences for the candidates from members, including the weightage attached to the support from various geographical regions, is not disclosed,” the person said.

The GC chair ought to have disclosed the criteria and how the selection process will proceed from first phase to the last phase, the person said.

As regards the latest candidates, Ambassador Amina Mohamed’s entry in the race has caused a huge surprise as she appeared to be reluctant earlier to contest the WTO’s top job after losing in the first round in 2013.

“She must have joined the race after getting the backing from a major member,” the person suggested.

Ironically, on the day when Ambassador Amina Mohamed filed her candidature on 7 July, the US-Kenya bilateral trade negotiations began in Washington, the person said.

In a related development, Mr Jesus Seade Kuri, Mexico’s candidate for the post of WTO DG, indicted on 7 July that he sees himself as being an “assertive leader” who will have ideas to offer and who will facilitate negotiations and disputes between members by demanding that countries lay out their positions and responses, according to a report in Washington Trade Daily (WTD) on 8 July.

“I have developed a profound belief in the international system,” he said, adding that “I believe I can make a contribution.”

His experience at the WTO has provided him with knowledge about issues the organization now faces, Mr. Seade Kuri suggested.

He justified Washington’s frustration with the Appellate Body (AB), saying it has a long history – it is not a new problem.

He noted that the United States has not questioned the Dispute Settlement Understanding itself, but rather has complained that the AB has not followed the rules.

“I think the United States is making good points about the system,” Mr Seade Kuri said.

“But dispute settlement is one way to handle China,” Mr. Seade Kuri said, praising the joint US, European Union and Japan initiative to address industrial subsidies.

According to the WTD report, Mr. Seade Kuri said that he sees hope for a solution to the China problem.

“China will be a tough negotiator, but they will not risk breaking down the WTO,” he said, adding, “China depends on the WTO.”

The Mexican candidate offered a solution for the ongoing debate over special and differential treatment of developing countries, suggesting that the focus should be on what commitments each developing country is willing to make in a negotiation in exchange for special and differential treatment.