TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jul20/22)
29 July 2020
Third World Network

WTO GC Chair to adopt 8-5-2 formula in the DG race
Published in SUNS #9170 dated 29 July 2020

Geneva, 28 Jul (D. Ravi Kanth) – The chair of the WTO General Council, Ambassador David Walker from New Zealand, has announced that members will be asked to express four preferences in the first round of the selection process beginning on 7 September for choosing the new Director-General of the organization to replace the current incumbent Roberto Azevedo.

In a brief statement at an informal heads of delegation (HoD) meeting on 28 July, the General Council (GC) chair said that whoever wishes to see the “troika” of the selection process – comprising the GC chair, the chair of the Dispute Settlement Body Ambassador Dacio Castillo of Honduras, and the chair of the Trade Policy Review Body Ambassador Harald Aspelund of Iceland – in the “confessionals” would have to express four preferences out of the eight candidates.

He said that he will adopt the 8-5-2 principle in which out of eight candidates, three will be asked to drop from the first round, three from the second round, and one candidate will be picked from the final round.

Ambassador Walker said that members cannot express more than four preferences in the first round in the slate of eight candidates who are vying for the WTO’s top job, said participants after the meeting.

The eight candidates in the race for the post of WTO DG are Dr Jesus Seade Kuri from Mexico, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria, Mr Abdulhameed Mamdouh from Egypt, Mr Tudor Ulianovschi from Moldova, Ms Yoo Myung-hee from South Korea, Ms Amina C Mohamed from Kenya, Mr Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri from Saudi Arabia and Dr Liam Fox from the United Kingdom.

The GC chair said that he would issue the detailed procedures and also the modalities for the remaining process on 31 August, said participants after the meeting.

During the DG selection process in 2013, the former General Council chair Ambassador Shahid Bashir from Pakistan had adopted the formula of 4-3-2 in a slate of nine candidates, implying that four candidates were removed in the first round, followed by three candidates in the second round, and leaving the field for two finalists.

The modalities are expected to be based on what was done during the last selection process in 2013, said people familiar with the selection process.

During the selection process for the director-general in 2013, the then GC chair Ambassador Bashir from Pakistan had mentioned that “there were concerns in certain quarters” about the selection process.

In his statement on 12 April 2013, he had explained that the three-member selection team, which was chaired by him, sought to know from each member “what are your preferences” and provide multiple preferences without ranking.

The former GC chair had told members that his selection committee would not accept any negative preferences.

Each “confessional (response),” said Ambassador Bashir, took place only a few minutes to identify the candidate around whom consensus can be built.

The main criterion for assessing the “confessionals” from members was the breadth of support for each candidate “across geographic regions and among the categories of Members generally recognized in WTO provisions: that is, LDCs, developing countries and developed countries,” Ambassador Bashir had said.

Despite these so-called transparent procedures in 2013, the Kenyan candidate Amina Mohamed, who lost in the first round, sought the voting figures but they were not made available to her, said a person who is familiar with the selection process.

Even in the final round in 2013, there was confusion as to who was the EU’s preferred choice among the two finalists – the Mexican candidate Herminio Blanco and the Brazilian candidate Roberto Azevedo -, as the EU members were spilt among the two candidates, with the Mexican candidate reportedly securing maximum support among 27 members of the EU, said a former trade envoy from an EU member country, who asked not to be quoted.

At the HoD meeting, Indonesia, South Africa, and several other countries called for ensuring transparency and inclusiveness.

“We believe that the appointment of director-general should reflect the interests of all members, without any exception, and therefore, should carry on the full participation of the whole membership and it is important that the selection process does not leave any room for concerns,” said Indonesia’s trade envoy Ambassador Syamsul Bahri Siregar at the meeting, according to participants, who asked not to be quoted.

The WTO DG selection process is opaque and leaves room for considerable discretion in the hands of the three facilitators, said an official, who followed the selection process last time.

In sharp contrast, the selection process for the top posts in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome and even the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva are fair, the official said.

Therefore, at a time when “transparency” has become the clarion call of those seeking reforms at the WTO and with the outgoing director-general having declared that he did away with the “Green Room” meetings, it is an opportune time for indicating the actual number of preferences that each candidate would have received in each round, so as to enhance the “credibility” of the selection process, said a trade envoy, who asked not to be quoted.