Selecting the new WTO DG – The Candidates


By Elizabeth Morgan

Phase I of the selection process, nomination of candidates, for the new Director General (DG) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) ended on July 8.  I addressed the selection process in my article of May 27. You may still be wondering why the Member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) should be interested in the selection of the new WTO DG. After all, what has the WTO done for us – the banana and sugar industries suffered from the WTO dispute settlement rulings and the USA has refused to settle the gambling dispute with Antigua and Barbuda. Also, it was unlikely that a CARICOM Member would nominate a candidate at this time.

On the question of benefits, I refer you to my series of articles in March on Jamaica’s 25 years as a WTO Member. Multilateralism matters to CARICOM countries as it enables us, as small developing states, to have a voice in the global arena. Many of the problems besetting the world today cannot solely be resolved at the national or regional levels no matter how powerful countries may be. The globe is interconnected and problems, e.g. environmental, health, do not respect borders. Solutions have to come from multilateral deliberations, consensus and collaboration. International trade too cannot be conducted only at the national and bilateral levels. International trade is a global undertaking and it requires rules and regulations if it is to be free and fair and take account of the needs of all countries/territories involved.

Recall that the WTO is an independent multilateral body which sets the rules and regulations for global trade and provides the arena for negotiations and dispute settlement. In the current dispute between the USA and China, which goes beyond trade in goods and services to the issue of development status of WTO members (see my series of articles on Development status in September/October 2019), I want to remind you that the USA has benefitted from the WTO. The US Republican Party was the advocate of free trade, favoured WTO establishment, supported admission of China as a developing country member and strengthening US/China trade relations in 2000/2001. It is acknowledged that situations change and require review/reform after 19 years.

The USA/China tensions will undoubtedly emerge in the political manoeuvrings surrounding the selection of the new WTO DG. In addition, US Presidential elections are scheduled for November 3. 

Currently, the Trump Administration is anti-multilateralism and threatening to withdraw from WTO Membership as it has done from some United Nations bodies. In fact, Republican Senator Joshua Hawley and others, including Democrats, had proposed a vote in the Senate on US withdrawal from the WTO. His namesake, Congressman Willis Hawley, in 1930, was a co-sponsor of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act raising tariffs on imported goods which contributed to the Great Depression – indeed, a bit of history to reflect upon.

CARICOM WTO members will have the opportunity to make their input in the DG selection process. As small trade dependent states, reverting to an unpredictable trade regime based on protectionist policies may not be in our interest. The new DG must also be sensitive to the development needs of developing country members and specifically those small developing members classified as middle-income, especially in this time of COVID-19.

The Candidates

As I mentioned in my May article, the post of DG has not been held by an African national nor a woman. Selection, however, is not based on geographical rotation by regions. As of July 8, WTO members have nominated eight (8) candidates, 3 women and 5 men, as follows:

  1. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria – specialist in development economics/former Minister of Finance and of Foreign Affairs and World Bank employee
  2. Ms. Yoo Myung-hee of South Korea – Minister of Trade/specialist in international trade
  3. Ms. Amina C. Mohamed Jibril of Kenya – current Government Minister/ former Permanent Representative to the WTO and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
  4. Dr. Jesús Seade Kuri of Mexico – Diplomat/International trade specialist (GATT/WTO)
  5. Mr. Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldova – Politician/Diplomat – former Permanent Representative to WTO
  6. Mr. Mohammed Maziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia – Banker/Politician
  7. Mr. Abdul-Hameed Mamdouh of Egypt – lawyer/diplomat – former WTO Secretariat employee
  8. Dr. Liam Fox of the United Kingdom – Medical Doctor/Politician/Diplomat – former Secretary (Minister) of International Trade

The selection process will be expedited. The campaign period (phase 2) will be shortened now covering two (2) months ending on September 7. Thereafter, phase 3 will commence, during which the General Council chair and his co-chairs will consult with Members to determine their preferences and reduce the list of candidates. Phase 3 could be completed by November 7. The selection process will conclude after the current DG demits office on August 31, requiring the appointment of an acting DG.

I think the three (3) women are strong candidates. During this COVID-19 pandemic, women were lauded as creative thinkers and able leaders. We will hopefully hear their vision for the Organization and see who can gain the support of a critical mass of WTO Members.

Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics

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