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Tuesday, 29 January 2013 09:24

And the Race is On: WTO Director General Nominees

Written by Azwimpheleli Langalanga
Mari Elka Pangestu, considered the front-runner of the WTO Director-General nominees Mari Elka Pangestu, considered the front-runner of the WTO Director-General nominees Photo © World Economic Forum/ Mirko Ries

The nomination process for World Trade Organization (WTO) Director General (DG) candidates ended on the 31st of December 2012. Pascal Lamy’s term ends on the 31st of August 2013 and will not be renewed. The nomination process resulted in nine candidates demonstrating an interest in the most senior position in the World Trade Organization.

The list of nominees is made up of a diverse pool of lawyers, economists and persons with different professional inclinations. Some of the notable features of the nominees are that four have PhDs, while another four have solid Geneva experience in different capacities, either at the WTO secretariat or as permanent representatives to the organization. A sizeable number of the nominees are also women, with three female candidates in total. The potential candidates are drawn from most regions of the world, and, with the exception the New Zealand candidate, exclusively from developing regions.

The General Council now has the arduous task of soliciting the views of each member country with regard to the nominees. The election of a DG must be conducted through consensus, and voting can only be resorted to in situations where there has not been consensus. WTO members are generally averse to resorting to voting, and will instead try to agree upon a compromise candidate.

Africa has fielded two candidates: one from Ghana, agreed by the African Union, and another from Kenya. Ghana has nominated Alan Kyerematen, who is currently with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. He is a lawyer by training and is a former Minister of Trade, a diplomat, and has had a stint in the corporate world. Kenya has nominated Amina Mohamed, an international lawyer who has experience in the General Council and Dispute Settlement divisions of the WTO secretariat, and among other roles was previously Kenya’s permanent representative. She is currently with the United Nations Environment Programme.

Asia has three candidates vying for the position. The Indonesian candidate is Mari Pangestu, a US trained economist. She is viewed as a frontrunner in this race and is a Former Minister of Trade and trade negotiator. Korea’s candidate is Taeho Bark, a former Trade Minister, economist and academic. Jordan has nominated Ahmad Hindawi, a former trade minister and an engineer by training.

The rest of the nominees are from the Americas. Mexico has fielded Herminio Blanco, who is a trade diplomat and economist by training, and has extensive experience in Geneva. Brazil’s nominee is Roberto Azevedo, also a trade diplomat, with considerable experience at the Brazilian Mission to the WTO in Geneva. Costa Rica’s candidate is Trade Minister Anabel Gonzalez, a former Foreign Affairs Minister with a great deal of trade negotiation experience and a former Director of the Agriculture Division at the WTO Secretariat.

Now that the process of nominating potential candidates has been concluded, what is left is for the General Council to work towards a final selection. This is a process which will take six months. The nominees have three months (January to March) to make presentations to the General Council (dubbed the “beauty contest” phase), after which the Chair of the General Council with the help of the Chair of the Dispute Settlement Body will have to take the list to each member with a view to trimming down the options.

The ideal situation is when a candidate is selected without voting but through consensus. The selection process takes into consideration many factors, both subjective and objective.

In the current contest one of the factors which will come into play are whether the candidate is from a developing country or not, due to a general view in Geneva that Lamy’s successor must be from a developing country.

The issue of regional representation will also come into play. As the Americas has submitted four candidates, Africa two, Asia three, and Australasia one, it is how these internal regional candidacies are dealt with which may determine the final outcome.

The informal but very powerful groupings in Geneva will also influence the final outcome. These include the Quad, Quad plus China, Group of 20, Group of 33, and so forth.

Here in South Africa, expectations were high that the capable Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies, might throw his hat into the arena. However, he has not. This seems to be because he is more interested in the UNCTAD Secretary General position, which becomes vacant as soon as the WTO position is filled in August. The UNCTAD position, which aligns with Davies’ developmental thinking, is poised to be occupied by an African. There is, however, a feeling in Geneva that the African candidates from Ghana and Kenya could actually be using the WTO race to as a precursor to the UNCTAD race.

The next six months will be interesting to watch as things unfold in Geneva. The next DG has the unenviable task of inheriting the Doha Development Agenda and guiding a decision on its fate. The successful candidate also has the task of ensuring the WTO gains more legitimacy and aligns with the global shift in power, as the world undergoes a move from the West to the East.


Azwimpheleli Langalanga is an intern with the Economic Diplomacy Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs.

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