William A. Reinsch, Jack Caporal, John Hoffner, and Sanvid Tuljapurkar
On May 14, Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Roberto Azevêdo announced he would be stepping down on August 31, one year before his term was set to expire. Director-General Azevêdo advocated for the need to “decouple;” not between China and the United States, but between the selection of the next director-general and the biennial Ministerial Conference. MC12 was scheduled for June of this year in Kazakhstan but was delayed until 2021 due to Covid-19.
The most common point of contention, and criteria, for selection is the regional representation of the candidate. Azevêdo’s election in 2013 was strongly contested. He was the first director-general from South America, leaving North America, Africa, Oceania, and the Middle East as the only regions that have yet to be represented as head of the international body. Two contradictory arguments have emerged so far. African nations argue it is “their turn.” But developed nations point out the WTO’s recent history of alternating directors from developing and developed economies and argue it is their turn, since Azevêdo is from Brazil, a developing country.
Who are the candidates?
. While final nominations are yet to be submitted, several names have been floated for the position, including the following:
Hamid Mamdouh has extensive experience as a trade lawyer, member of the WTO Secretariat, and trade negotiator for Egypt. Along with his extensive experience, Mamdouh has emphasized his “vision from an African perspective” as part of his director-general bid—playing into the regional aspect of the selection process.
Mamdouh currently serves as a senior counsel at King & Spalding LLP.
Deputy Director-General Yonov Fredrick Agah
Agar checks the regional box, coming from Nigeria, and brings deep trade experience. His responsibilities include the Trade Policy Review Division, Development Division, and the Institute for Training and Technical Cooperation. He was first appointed as the deputy director-general in October 2013 and was reappointed for a second term in October 2017. Speaking at the United Nations’ High-level Political Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Agah called for greater cooperation among international organizations to revitalize global partnerships for development and to deliver the SDGs—one of which calls on WTO members to reach an agreement to rein in harmful fisheries subsidies by the end of this year. He has also highlighted the importance of the free flow of knowledge—through transparency at the WTO, agreements that slash tariffs on information communications technology, and cooperation with other international organizations.
Ambassador Eloi Laourou
Ambassador Eloi Laourou currently serves as the ambassador and permanent representative of Benin to the United Nations and other organizations in Geneva, including the WTO. While serving as an ambassador during the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development e-commerce week in 2019, Laourou urged least developed countries to join e-commerce negotiations. Some have balked at doing so out of concern that an agreement would constrict policy flexibility in the digital economy space.
Dr. Amina Mohamed is a Kenyan international civil servant with a long career in public and foreign service. Like Mamdouh, she has placed an emphasis on the importance of African WTO members. She has held several positions at the United Nations and the WTO. Mohamed was nominated for the position of the director-general of the WTO in 2013. She currently serves as the cabinet secretary for sports, heritage, and culture.
Lord Peter Mandelson, hailing from the United Kingdom, is a former European trade negotiator. He served as the European trade commissioner between 2004 and 2008. In that role, he oversaw EU trade negotiations and led negotiations during the WTO Doha Round. He has a history in British politics, including as secretary of state for trade and treasury, Northern Ireland secretary, and secretary of state for business, innovation, and skill during the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown government. Mandelson has also served as a member of parliament and director of campaigns and communications for the Labour Party.
Mandelson has stated that WTO reform will be incremental and a political exercise. He has claimed the job is not suitable for a “someone shy and retiring or who sees themselves as civil servant or a technician.” However, his own candidateship appears to have structural impediments, chief among them the need to secure European Union support amid the Brexit saga, and the need to secure UK backing from a Conservative government despite previously serving in Brussels.
Given the friction between the United States and China, between the European Union and United Kingdom, and the fact that the current director-general comes from Latin America, the stars may be aligning for the first ever WTO director-general from Africa. However, if there are multiple African candidates and if developed countries unite around their own candidate, that might give developed countries a significant advantage. The U.S. position is unknown at this point. It would be unusual for the United States to put forward its own candidate, but the current administration could well decide that doing so might be the best way to advance its reform agenda.
Wednesday, May 27, 2020