The first three candidates battling to become the World Trade Organization’s next leader were making their pitches on Wednesday, with one insisting the WTO was stuck in a “serious crisis”.
Eight contenders are running for the job, with each taking their turn to impress the 164 member states’s representatives at the global trade body’s headquarters in Geneva over three days until Friday.
The candidates make 15-minute presentations before facing a 75-minute grilling over their plans for shaking up the WTO.
After a series of eliminations based on consensus, starting in September, the winner will take the WTO wheel in the midst of a global economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
The new leader will also have to revive stalled trade talks and sort out simmering tensions between the United States and China.
“There’s a serious crisis going on,” Mexico’s former WTO deputy director-general Jesus Seade Kuri told reporters after being the first contender to make his pitch.
“There has been an absolute… loss of trust between delegations,” he said.
“That lack of trust makes it more difficult to negotiate”, creating “huge-pent up pressure for issues to be addressed”.
– Order of play –
There are three African candidates, two from Europe, two from Asia and one from the Americas.
Africa’s trio are former Nigerian foreign and finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Egyptian former diplomat Hamid Mamdouh; and Kenya’s former WTO General Council chair Amina Mohamed.
Britain’s first post-Brexit international trade secretary Liam Fox and former Moldovan foreign minister Tudor Ulianovschi are the two from Europe.
South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee and former Saudi economy minister Mohammed al-Tuwaijri are in the running from Asia, while Seade was the first to declare his candidacy.
Seade’s pitch on Wednesday was to be followed by Okonjo-Iweala and then Mamdouh.
Ulianovschi, Yoo and Mohamed take their turn on Thursday, while Tuwajiri and Fox go on Friday.
Since the WTO was created in 1995, three of its directors-general were from Europe, while one each came from Oceania, Asia and South America.
– African hopes –
Africa therefore fancies its chances, even though there is no regional rotation principle at the global trade body.
“It is time that Africa took up her responsibility of serving at the helm of WTO,” said Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
He called Mohamed “a uniquely qualified person, to lead the WTO at this critical time”, saying that “her leadership at the WTO will without doubt be a game changer”.
The WTO is staging a swift contest to replace outgoing director-general Roberto Azevedo.
The campaign phase runs until September 7, after which the eliminations round will last up to two months.
In a surprise move in mid-May, the Brazilian career diplomat announced he was ending his second four-year term 12 months early at the end of August for personal reasons.
Former family doctor Fox, who entered the race on last Wednesday’s deadline, set out his diagnosis for revitalising the organisation.
“If we want to keep the WTO relevant and vibrant our task is clear: update, strengthen and reform. We must ensure that global trade works for everyone,” he said.